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and Learning 

Bringing Research to Practice 

Edited by 

Elfrieda H. Hiebert 
Michael L. Kamil 

Teaching and Learning Vocabulary 

Bringing Research to Practice 

This page intentionally left blank 

Teaching and Learning Vocabulary 

Bringing Research to Practice 

Edited by 

Elfrieda H. Hiebert 

University of California, Berkeley 

Michael L. Kamil 

Stanford University 

1 ^ 


Mahwah, New Jersey London 

Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 

All rights reserv ed. No part of this book may be reproduced in 
any form, by photostat, microform, retrieval system, or any 
othermeans, without priorwritten permission of the publisher. 

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers 
10 Industrial Avenue 
Mahwah, New Jersey 07430 
www. erlbaum .com 

Cover design by Kathryn Houghtaling Lacey 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Teaching and learning vocabulary : bringing research to practice 
/ edited by Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Michael L. Kamil 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-8058-5285-9 (cloth : alk. paper) 

ISBN 0-8058-5286-7 (pbk. : alk. Paper) 

1. Vocabulary — Study and teaching. 2. Language Arts. 

I. Hiebert, Elfrieda H. II. Kamil, Michael L. 

LB 1 574.4 T42 2005 

372.61— dc22 2004057708 


Books published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates are printed on 
acid-free paper, and their bindings are chosen for strength and 

Printed in the United States of America 
10 987654321 

Dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague, 
Steven A. Stahl ( 1951-2004 ) 

This page intentionally left blank 


Preface ix 

1 Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: 1 

Perspectives and Persistent Issues 

Michael L. Kamil and Elfrieda H. Hiebert 


2 Why Vocabulary Instruction Needs to Be Long-Term 27 

and Comprehensive 

William Nagy 

3 Vocabulary Growth Through Independent Reading 45 

and Reading Aloud to Children 

Anne E. Cunningham 

4 Creating Opportunities to Acquire New Word Meanings 69 

From Text 

Judith A. Scott 


5 Four Problems With Teaching Word Meanings 95 

(And What to Do to Make Vocabulary an Integral 

Part of Instruction 
Steven A. Stahl 




6 Bringing Words to Life in Classrooms 
With English-Language Learners 
Margarita Calderon, Diane August, Robert Slavin, 

Daniel Duran, Nancy Madden, and Alan Cheung 

7 Sustained Vocabulary-Learning Strategy Instruction 
for English-Language Learners 

Maria S. Carlo, Diane August, and Catherine E. Snow 

8 Classroom Practices for Vocabulary Enhancement in 
Prekindergarten: Lessons From PAVEd for Success 
Paula J. Schwanenflugel, Claire E. Hamilton, Barbara A. Bradley, 
Hilary P. Ruston, Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, and M. Adelaida Restrepo 

9 Strategies for Teaching Middle-Grade Students to Use 
Word-Part and Context Clues to Expand Reading Vocabulary 
James F. Baumann, George Font, Elizabeth Carr Edwards, and 
Eileen Boland 


10 Choosing Words to Teach 

Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Kucan 

11 Size and Sequence in Vocabulary' Development: Implications 
for Choosing Words for Primary Grade Vocabulary 

Andrew Biemiller 

12 In Pursuit of an Effective, Efficient Vocabulary Curriculum 
for Elementary Students 

Elfrieda H. Hiebert 

Author Index 
Subject Index 











In early 2002, colleagues from the Pacific Resources for Education and 
Learning (PREL) asked us to facilitate a series of conferences as part of a na- 
tional leadership initiative on reading/language mastery within the Re- 
gional Educational Laboratory system. At that time, the report of the 
National Reading Panel had been available for 18 months. Discussion on 
listservs and at conferences about the phonemic awareness and phonics sec- 
tion of the report had been extensive. For the educational leaders within 
states and districts at whom the national leadership initiative on read- 
ing/language mastery was aimed, we reasoned that it was also critical to fo- 
cus attention on the other three topics of the report — fluency, vocabulary, 
and comprehension. Consequently, over the next 3 years, PREL held fo- 
rums for educational leaders that focused on fluency (2002), vocabulary 
(2003), and comprehension (2004). 

The core group of chapters in this volume originated from presentations 
at the forum on vocabulary that was held in Dallas, Texas on October 1-2, 
2003. In designing the conference and this volume, we were particularly in- 
terested in addressing those areas that the National Reading Panel had 
identified as requiring investigation. As the report of the National Reading 
Panel and the content of chapters in this volume illustrate, vocabulary holds 
a special place among the five literacy components of reading. First, vocab- 
ulary is not a developmental skill or one that can be seen as ever fully mas- 
tered. The expansion and elaboration of vocabularies — whether speaking, 
listening, reading, or writing — can be expected to extend across a lifetime. 
It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate vocabulary from comprehension. 

The chapters cluster around three persistent issues in the learning and 
teaching of vocabulary: (a) how are words learned and taught as a function 
of word features, content areas, and developmental levels? (b) how do vo- 
cabulary interventions differ for different age groups and content areas? 
and (c) what words should be emphasized in instruction? 




We identified scholars whose programs of research address one or more 
of these questions. These programs of research have been recognized by 
national panels and editorial boards of archival journals. Scholars were 
asked to summarize the findings that have resulted from these programs of 
work, including studies that may be ongoing, and to describe the implica- 
tions of these findings for educators who are responsible for implementing 
state and federal policies in state and district agencies, and for researchers 
who are beginning programs of work on vocabulary. As will become evident 
in reading the chapters, many of these scholars are considering the nature 
of vocabulary learning in relation to the diversity that is present in many 
current-day classrooms. 

There are many people who collaborate in making an endeavor such as 
this one successful. The authors of the chapters responded with alacrity and 
graciousness to our deadlines. As a result, this volume is available to educa- 
tional leaders and researchers in a timely fashion. We would not be publish- 
ing this volume without the continued faith of Lane Akers of Lawrence 
Erlbaum Associates (LEA) in our work and also his ongoing patience. Sara 
Scudder at LEA has been the most efficient production editor with whom we 
have had the pleasure of working. Fran Lehr and Laurie Clark Klavins were 
instrumental in ensuring that Sara and her colleagues at LEA received a 
carefully edited manuscript. We also recognize the colleagues who have 
been part of our effort on a day-to-day basis: Alice Folkins, Charles Fisher, 
and Diana Arya. They have checked and rechecked texts, contacted and re- 
contacted authors, and coded and recoded materials to ensure accurate au- 
thor and topic indices. We are thankful for their efforts. 

Our colleagues at PREL had the vision for the forum series. They also 
provided the resources to organize the forum and edit the volume. Their 
support made it possible for speakers to come to the forum and prepare 
their chapters for publication. Ron Toma was the director of the Regional 
Educational Laboratory at PREL who invited us to participate in the project 
initially. Ludy van Broekhuizen w r as the associate director of the Regional 
Educational Laboratory when the project was initiated and, after Ron’s re- 
tirement, the director who continued to support our efforts. Jan Jenner was 
the administrator extraordinaire whose efforts have ensured a product of 
quality. For the hard work and vision of Ron, Ludy, and Jan, we will always 
be grateful. 

Finally, the educational leaders who have attended the forums — many of 
whom attended all three — have been a compass for us in editing this volume 
and in designing our research programs. Their questions and eagerness to 
learn have been the source behind this volume. We are hopeful that many stu- 
dents will benefit from the findings of the research reported in this volume. 

— Elfrieda H. Hiebert 
Michael L. Kamil 



Teaching and Learning Vocabulary 

Perspectives and Persistent Issues 

Michael L. Kamil 

Stanford University 

Elfrieda H. Hiebert 

University of California, Berkeley 

This book addresses the role of vocabulary in reading text. The role of vocabu- 
lary and reading is a complex one, as reading researchers have long recog- 
nized. In 1925, Whipple described the central role of vocabulary thus: “Growth 
in reading power means, therefore, continuous enriching and enlarging of the 
reading vocabulary and increasing clarity of discrimination in appreciation of 
word values” (p. 76). In 1942, Davis described comprehension as comprised of 
two skills: word knowledge, or vocabulary, and reasoning. 

Words represent complex and, often, multiple meanings. Furthermore, 
these complex, multiple meanings of words need to be understood in the 
context of other words in the sentences and paragraphs of texts. Not only 
are students expected to understand words in texts, but also texts can be ex- 
pected to introduce them to many new words. The vocabulary of written 
language is much more extensive and diverse than the vocabulary of oral 
language (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996). 

One way of illustrating some of the challenges that readers can have 
with vocabulary is to provide a real-life example from instructional mate- 
rials. The following words illustrate approximately four or five of every 
1 00 words in the first-grade anthologies of the reading programs that are 




approved for purchase with state funds in Texas (Texas Education 
Agency, 1997): 

scritch, spittlebug, steeple (Adams et al., 2000) 
snowcones, sneezed, spooky (Afflerbach et al., 2000)) 
saleslady, steered, stump (Farr et al., 2001) 
shuns, scampered, sopping (Flood et al., 2001) 
scatting, skiddle, succulents (Scholastic, 2000) 

These words demonstrate the diversity of vocabulary in a reading pro- 
gram even at the end of Grade 1 . Based on the frequency of words within a 
corpus of 17.25 million words taken from representative kindergarten 
through college texts (Zeno, Ivens, Millard, & Duvvuri, 1 995), each of the 
words just listed had a frequency of less than three occurrences within a 
million words of running text. Indeed, most are likely to appear fewer 
than once in a million words of text. Some of the words such as sneezed, 
spooky, saleslady, steered, and stump are likely easy for students to under- 
stand once they decode or hear the word pronounced because most chil- 
dren have heard or even spoken these words in conversation. Other words 
such as shuns, scatting (used in this particular text to describe a form of jazz 
singing), and scritch are ones that even high-school students do not know 
(Dale & O’Rourke, 1981). 

The types of vocabulary in texts that are used for instruction is but one of 
the many problems that need to be addressed in vocabulary research and 
instruction. Our task, in this introductory chapter, is foreshadowing the 
themes that run throughout the book. In so doing, the chapter begins by 
outlining a perspective on vocabulary learning, especially as it relates to the 
reading of text. The second section of the chapter develops a perspective on 
vocabulary teaching as it pertains to reading text. The final section of the 
chapter presents several persistent issues in the teaching and learning of 
vocabulary — issues that, if not the direct focus of every chapter in this vol- 
ume, underlie much of the work of contributors to this volume. 


The National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) identified the components of 
reading as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and compre- 
hension. As the content of the chapters in this book illustrates, vocabulary 
holds a special place among these components. Vocabulary is not a devel- 
opmental skill or one that can ever be seen as fully mastered. The expansion 
and elaboration of vocabularies is something that extends across a lifetime. 



A first consideration in delineating the construct of “vocabulary” in re- 
search and practice is that individuals have various types of vocabulary 
that they use for different purposes. Failure to distinguish among the dif- 
ferent kinds of vocabulary can lead to confusion and disagreement about 
both research findings and instructional implications. Generically, vocab- 
ulary is the knowledge of meanings of words. What complicates this defini- 
tion is the fact that words come in at least two forms: oral and print. 
Knowledge of words also comes in at least two forms, receptive — that 
which we can understand or recognize — and productive — the vocabulary 
we use when we write or speak. 

Oral vocabulary is the set of words for which we know the meanings when 
we speak or read orally. Print vocabulary consists of those words for which 
the meaning is known when we write or read silently. These are important 
distinctions because the set of words that beginning readers know are 
mainly oral representations. As they learn to read, print vocabulary comes 
to play an increasingly larger role in literacy than does the oral vocabulary. 

Productive vocabulary is the set of words that an individual can use when 
writing or speaking. They are words that are well-known, familiar, and 
used frequently. Conversely, receptive, or recognition, vocabulary is that set of 
words for which an individual can assign meanings when listening or read- 
ing. These are words that are often less well known to students and less fre- 
quent in use. Individuals may be able assign some sort of meaning to them, 
even though they may not know the full subtleties of the distinction. 
Typically, these are also words that individuals do not use spontaneously. 
However, when individuals encounter these words, they recognize them, 
even if imperfectly. 

In general, recognition or receptive vocabulary is larger than production 
vocabulary. And, as noted earlier, for beginning readers, oral vocabulary 
far outstrips print vocabulary. This is one of the determining factors in 
shaping beginning reading instruction. Beginning reading instruction is 
typically accomplished by teaching children a set of rules to decode printed 
words to speech. If the words are present in the child’s oral vocabulary, com- 
prehension should occur as the child decodes and monitors the oral repre- 
sentations. However, if the print vocabulary is more complex than the 
child’s oral vocabulary, comprehension will not occur. That is, the process of 
decoding a word to speech does nothing more than change its representa- 
tion from visual print to oral speech. If it is not in the child’s vocabulary , it is 
simply an unusual collection of speech sounds. The details of this “theory” 
of vocabulary and reading instruction can be summarized in the following 
way: Comprehension is a function of oral language and word recognition. That is, 
comprehension of print is a result of the ability to decode and recognize 
words and oral language knowledge. There are two intermediate steps, 
though. The first is the link between decoding and oral language. 



Decoding to Oral Language 

Decoding words to speech requires a background of oral language ability 
and the knowledge of letter-to-sound correspondences. A reader must 
translate the print on a page into speech. Once a reader decodes a word, 
oral language plays the predominant part in comprehension. In fact, Sdcht, 
Beck, Hauke, Kleiman, and James (1974) showed that for younger readers, 
up to about Grade 3, reading comprehension and oral language compre- 
hension were roughly interchangeable. This relationship implies that the 
texts that children are given in early reading instruction must be closely tied 
to their oral language abilities. The vocabulary that young readers are 
asked to decode cannot be far more complex than that of their oral lan- 
guage. Thus, words such as shuns or scatting from the Texas-adopted texts 
cited earlier in this chapter may be decoded eventually but may well be 
treated as nonsense words by many first graders. Historically — although 
not currently the pattern in the textbook anthologies, as the previous exam- 
ples show — beginning readers have been given texts where most of the vo- 
cabulary is limited to those words within their oral language. That way, 
children can devote their attention to the decoding of words that, once fig- 
ured out, relate to familiar experiences. 

The second intermediate step is that oral language ability should lead to 
oral comprehension. Students need to understand that what they decode 
should make as much sense as something they would say. This relationship 
assumes that a host of other factors do not complicate the picture. For ex- 
ample, nonnative speakers of English may not automatically make use of 
the decoded representations, even if they produce accurate oral represen- 
tations. For native speakers, the syntactic complexity or the discourse might 
be complications that prevent comprehension from occurring even after 
appropriate decoding has taken place. 

The foregoing suggests that vocabulary occupies a central place in the 
scheme of learning to read. Vocabulary serves as the bridge between the 
word-level processes of phonics and the cognitive processes of compre- 
hension. Once students have become proficient at the decoding task, how- 
ever, a shift occurs in the vocabulary of text. Texts now become the context 
for encountering vocabulary that is not within one’s oral vocabulary. A 
preponderance of common and familiar words continues to occur in texts, 
as running discourse depends on a core group of words. In the Zeno et al. 
(1995) analysis of 17.25 million words that represented texts used in 
schools from kindergarten through college, 5,580 words accounted for 
80% of the total words (and approximately 90% of the total words in 
Grades 3 to 9 texts; Carroll, Davies, & Richman, 1971). However, the 
number of types or unique words that accounted for the other 20% of total 
words was enormous: 150,000. 



These rare words are much more likely to occur in the vocabularies of 
text than in oral vocabularies. Hayes and his colleagues (Hayes & Ahrens, 
1988; Hayes et al., 1996) have considered the commonality and rareness 
ofwords in oral and written language. Table 3. 1 of Cunningham’s chapter 
in this book presents the data on the numbers of rare words in different 
kinds of texts ranging from scientific articles to concept books for pre- 
schoolers and oral language corpora ranging from television programs to 
conversations. Common words were defined as those among the 10,000 
most common (rather than the words that Zeno et al. [1995] identified as 
occurring 10 times or more per million-word written corpus). These re- 
searchers conclude that speech typically contains far fewer rare words 
than written language. Even the texts that are considered children’s books 
or literature have more rare words than all oral discourse except for the 
testimony of expert witnesses. 

Presumably, students who are automatic readers recognize the majority 
ofwords that are common (i.e., most of the 5,580 most frequent words). The 
contexts that are provided in paragraphs and sentences can then be used to 
understand words that occur less frequently but that are critical to the 
meaning of the discourse. When the number of known words is not suffi- 
cient to figure out the meaning of unknown words, comprehension breaks 
down. Such a scenario can happen with highly proficient readers when they 
read in highly technical areas for which they may have insufficient back- 
ground knowledge. Consider the following excerpt: 

If modern techniques such as “optical proximity correction” are applied 
to compensate for the blurring effects of diffraction, photolithography 
can create features smaller than the wavelength oflight used in projecting 
the pattern. In this example of optical proximity correction, a compli- 
cated pattern used for the mask results in crisp features on the chip. 
(Hutcheson, 2004, p. 80) 

For many readers of this chapter, attending to words that are rare in 
their written lexicon (i.e., diffraction, photolithography), as well as attend- 
ing to words with which they are familiar but that appear in a phrase that de- 
scribes an unfamiliar process (e.g., optical proximity correction), may cause 
so much attention that overall meaning is compromised. 

Once students reach the point where words that are not part of their oral 
vocabularies become prominent in school texts, numerous issues in the de- 
sign and/or selection of texts and of instructional activities arise. Hiebert’s 
(chapter 12, this volume) analyses show that, within the typical 1,560-word, 
fourth-grade text in a reading/language arts program, approximately 4.3 
words per every 100 are rare. It is unlikely that all rare words can be taught 
or even that they should be taught (to ensure that students acquire appro- 



priate context strategies). Texts can thus be seen as both providing oppor- 
tunities for developing richer vocabularies as well as placing high demands 
on the vocabulary learning strategies and existing vocabularies of students. 


A clear perspective on vocabulary learning is useful. But without a simi- 
larly clear perspective on meaningful instruction, students’ learning in 
school will not be optimal. Fortunately for educators, a clear perspective 
on the components of effective vocabulary instruction is available in the 
report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000). The Congressional 
mandate to the National Reading Panel was to “assess the status of re- 
search-based knowledge, including the effectiveness of various ap- 
proaches to teaching children to read” (p. 1 - 1 ). Whereas other researchers 
have considered aspects of vocabulary teaching (e.g., Kuhn & Stahl, 1998; 
Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999), the review of the National Reading Panel 
was a comprehensive analysis of experimental studies that have examined 
vocabulary instruction. 

Using the definitions of Davis (1942) and Whipple ( 1 925), where vocabu- 
lary is seen to be an integral part of comprehension, the National Reading 
Panel defined vocabulary as one of two aspects of comprehension instruc- 
tion, the other being comprehension strategy instruction. By identifying 
vocabulary as one of five major components of reading, the National Read- 
ing Panel has directed attention to vocabulary instruction. Although some 
of the research base may not be as extensive or as robust as would be hoped, 
the report of the National Reading Panel has brought vocabulary into the 
foreground after a period when little attention was given to vocabulary in- 
struction in classrooms (Scott, Jamieson-Noel, & Asselin, 2003) or in re- 
search programs (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002). 

Findings of the National Reading Panel 

In their synthesis of instructional research on vocabulary, the National 
Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) identified 50 studies that met their quality 
requirements. These 50 studies included a total of 73 samples of students. 
Of that total, 53 samples (or 73%) were students in Grades 3 to 8. This is not 
to say that vocabulary instruction is not critical with preschoolers through 
second graders. In fact, research shows that the vocabularies of preschool- 
ers predict later reading achievement (Hart & Risley, 1995). However, the 
volume of published studies that met the requirements of the National 
Reading Panel was simply not sufficient to make substantive conclusions 
about early levels. Projects such as that of Schwanenflugel et al. (chapter 8, 
this volume) show what is needed and possible in the design and synthesis of 
vocabulary programs with preschoolers. 



The concludi ng statement of the National Reading Panel’s (NICHD, 2000) 
synthesis of vocabulary research provides a succinct summary of classrooms 
where students’ vocabularies expand and are elaborated: “Dependence on a 
single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning” (p. 
4—4). This conclusion is understandable in light of the complexity of what it 
means to know a word (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Nagy & Scott, 2000). This 
conclusion also means that educators need to design classrooms experiences 
that are multi-faceted, if students are to acquire new words and increase the 
depth of their word knowledge. The design of these environments does not 
come about, however, by happenstance. The National Reading Panel identi- 
fied eight specific findings that can provide a scientifically based foundation 
for the design of rich, multifaceted vocabulary instruction. These conclusions 
of the National Reading Panel are summarized in Table 1.1. 

TABLE 1.1 

Summary of the National Reading Panel's Specific Conclusions 
about Vocabulary Instruction 

1. There is a need for direct instruction of vocabulary items required for a 
specific text. 

2. Repetition and multiple exposure to vocabulary items are important. Students 
should be given items that will be likely to appear in many contexts. 

3. Learning in rich contexts is valuable for vocabulary learning. Vocabulary words 
should be those that the learner will find useful in many contexts. When 
vocabulary items are derived from content learning materials, the learner will be 
better equipped to deal with specific reading matter in content areas. 

4. Vocabulary tasks should be restructured as necessary. It is important to be 
certain that students fully understand what is asked of them in the context of 
reading, rather than focusing only on the words to be learned. Restructuring 
seems to be most effective for low-achieving or at-risk students. 

5. Vocabulary learning is effective when it entails active engagement in learning 

6. Computer technology can be used effectively to help teach vocabulary. 

7. Vocabulary can be acquired through incidental learning. Much of a student’s 
vocabulary will have to be learned in the course of doing things other than 
explicit vocabulary learning. Repetition, richness of context, and motivation 
may also add to the efficacy of incidental learning of vocabulary. 

8. Dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in 
optimal learning. A variety of methods was used effectively with emphasis on 
multimedia aspects of learning, richness of context in which words are to be 
learned, and the number of exposures to words that learners receive. 

Note. From National Reading Panel (2000), page 4-4. 



As the Panel’s conclusions indicate, a critical feature of effective class- 
rooms is the instruction of specific words. This instruction includes lessons 
and activities where students apply their vocabulary knowledge and strate- 
gies to reading and writing. Discussions are held where teachers and stu- 
dents talk about words, their features, and strategies for understanding 
unfamiliar words. 

Often it has been assumed that the vocabulary of students is too large to 
be affected by the small number of words that can be taught directly. The re- 
search emphatically demonstrates that this is not the case. Direct vocabu- 
lary instruction was effective in improving comprehension. This should not 
be surprising, given the “theory” of vocabulary set forth earlier. Nor should 
it be surprising in light of the definitions of Davis and of Whipple. It may 
also be that attention to specific words serves to direct students’ attention to 
features of words that they then generalize in a strategic manner. For exam- 
ple, a text called The Waterfall (London, 1999) that is currently part of a 
leading basal reading program has a number of compound words in addi- 
tion to its title: backpack, upstream, rainbow, cookout, bonfire, driftwood, and 
river-smooth. By directly teaching one or more of these words, it may well be 
that students’ awareness of compound words increases. 

As is evident in the Panel’s conclusions, the methods for directly and ex- 
plicitly teaching words are many. In all, the Panel identified 2 1 methods 
that have been found to be effective in research projects. Many of these 
methods emphasize the underlying concept of a word and its connections 
to other words. Stahl (chapter 5, this volume) illustrates methods such as 
semantic mapping and Venn diagrams that use graphics. Another 
method — the keyword method — uses words and illustrations that high- 
light salient features of meaning. For example, keywords may be words 
acoustically similar to a salient part of a word as well as connected by 
meaning (e.g., “hair suit” fox hirsute; Foil & Alber, 2002). Students are also 
supported in visualizing or drawing a picture (e.g., a person wearing a suit 
made of hair) or a picture is made for them (Foil & Alber, 2002). Despite 
the consistent and extensive research base for this method, the prepara- 
tion of materials for the keyword method seems to place a heavy burden 
on instructors. Furthermore, using images or pictures to trigger word as- 
sociations has limitations in the words that can be learned. For example, it 
would be difficult to get an acoustic mnemonic for the word vary and the 
family of words that it represents (variation, variety, varietal). Conse- 
quently, it is not surprising that this technique is not used extensively in 
classrooms, despite its empirical foundation. 

Although direct and explicit guidance on specific words and on word 
learning strategies are critical, the Panel’s conclusions also point to the inci- 
dental learning of vocabulary. That is, students acquire vocabulary when it 
is not explicitly or intentionally taught. Indirect exposure contributes most 



of the vocabulary learning that occurs with students. Given the size of vocab- 
ularies that people attain and the amount of time available for instruction, 
this finding is not surprising. Research gives us little insight into the precise 
mechanisms by which this implicit or indirect learning takes place. How- 
ever, in the Panel’s identification of characteristics of effective vocabulary 
lie possible explanations. Furthermore, although we describe the vocabu- 
lary that arises from frequent reading and rich oral language discussions as 
incidental learning, the creation of such occasions in schools and homes 
represents intentions on the part of educators and parents. As Graves 
(2000) noted, students need to know about words, not simply acquire new 
words, if they are to be successful in understanding unfamiliar vocabulary in 
their reading. The number of words that students will encounter means that 
priority is given to developing strategies that students can use when they are 
reading independently and to occasions where they can apply these strate- 
gies in their reading and writing, as well as discuss the ways in which the au- 
thors they read use words. Underlying these strategies is a curiosity about 
words — the relationships between words with similar roots, the connotative 
and denotative meanings of words, the ways in which new words enter lan- 
guage, the idiomatic uses of language, the multiple meanings of individual 
words, the vocabularies of specialty areas, the connections between English 
words and Romance or Greek words, and so on. 

There has been much discussion about the role of wide reading in inci- 
dental learning (see Cunningham, chapter 3, this volume). The National 
Reading Panel found no experimental studies that confirm this relation- 
ship. However, extensive reading may be the means whereby characteristics 
of effective instruction that the Panel identified can be supported. For ex- 
ample, extensive reading gives students repeated exposure to particular 
words. Multiple exposures to vocabulary was one of the factors that the 
Panel confirmed as contributing to vocabulary learning. As Scott’s (chapter 
4, this volume) review shows, most words are not acquired in a single expo- 
sure. Both practice and repeated encounters with words seem to be impor- 
tant for the acquisition of vocabulary. Extensive reading is also one of the 
means by which students see vocabulary in rich contexts. According to the 
National Reading Panel, seeing vocabulary in the rich contexts provided by 
authentic texts rather than in isolation was one of the characteristics of in- 
struction that produced robust vocabulary learning. 

The perspective that comes from the Panel’s conclusions about class- 
rooms that extend and enrich students’ vocabularies is one of variety and 
richness. Effective classrooms provide multiple ways for students to learn 
and interact with words. These ways of learning words and strategies for 
learning words engage students and motivate them to listen for and look 
for new words. The contexts in which students see words are rich, such as 
books that use language inventively, and pertain to many content areas. 



The ways of learning words also include technology and multimedia 
where students can interact with language orally, pictorially, and in writ- 
ing. What is also clear is that this learning is not a happenstance occur- 
rence. Classrooms where students receive sound word instruction (Scott &: 
Nagy, 2004) are ones where lessons focus their attention on specific words 
and word-learning strategies, where opportunities to talk about words are 
many, and where occasions for applying what has been taught with engag- 
ing and content-rich texts and with motivating purposes occur with regu- 
larity and purpose. 

Updates to the National Reading Panel Vocabulary Database 

Since the National Reading Panel synthesized their findings, two of the na- 
tion’s regional laboratories — Pacific Resources for Education and Learning 
(PREL) and the Laboratory for Student Success (LSS) — have supported the 
updating of several of the databases on which the National Reading Panel 
based their findings, including vocabulary instruction (see Kamil & Hiebert, 
2004). An additional 13 studies on vocabulary instruction — or an increase of 
26% over the original database — were identified through the application of 
the same search strategies as those used in the National Reading Panel 
search. Despite this substantial increase in studies, no new findings emerged. 
There were, however, substantiations of patterns reported in the National 
Reading Panel. Three of the studies emphasized the positive role that com- 
puter-assisted activities can have in the development of vocabulary 
(Clements & McLoughlin, 1986; Davidson, Elcock, & Noyes, 1996; Heise, 
Papalewis, & Tanner, 1991). The review also produced continued substantia- 
tion for the role that read-aloud events can have in supporting vocabulary de- 
velopment of children, particularly kindergartners (Ewers & Brownson, 
1999; Leung, 1992; Robbins & Ehri, 1994). Researchers are using findings 
such as these to design and implement interventions for preschoolers, as is il- 
lustrated in chapter 8 by Schwanenflugel and colleagues (this volume). 

There are many other studies of vocabulary that were not included in ei- 
ther the National Reading Panel or the PREL/LSS databases because of the 
inclusion criteria of those reviews. Many of these studies have relevance for 
instruction, even though they were not experimental studies of instruction. 
In the following sections, issues that require additional attention by re- 
searchers are raised. 


Four issues are particularly persistent in discussions among vocabulary in- 
struction, as evident in the chapters in this volume: (a) the number of words 



that should be taught, (b) the particular words that should be taught, (c) the 
vocabulary learning of two groups of students — English-Language 
Learners and potentially at-risk students, and (4) the role of independent 
reading in vocabulary learning. These are not the only issues in vocabulary 
research and instruction, but these four issues are those that consistently 
underlie the presentation of issues and solutions by authors in this volume 
and in broader educational circles. We examine each one in turn. 

The Number of Words That Should Be Taught 

Researchers’ estimates of the size of vocabularies of individuals at the same 
age level, such as third grade or college, vary by as much as an order of mag- 
nitude (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). These variations reflect different defini- 
tions of what it means to know a word, as well as types of vocabularies being 
considered (i.e., the receptive/productive and oral/written dimensions). A 
more useful perspective, in considering the vocabulary opportunities and 
tasks that texts present for readers, is to consider the number of different 
words in the typical texts that students read in schools. Beginning with 
Thorndike’s (1921) effort and continuing through that of Zeno et al. 
( 1 995), different research groups have collected and collated the number of 
words in texts that students might typically read in school. Even these re- 
ports of the number of words in school texts leave many questions. For ex- 
ample, what counts as a unique word in a reading vocabulary? In some 
databases, the possessive of a word is counted as a different unique word 
from the original word. Nagy and Anderson (1984) used a sample of 
Carroll, Davies, and Richman’s (1971) database, which drew on a corpus of 
5 million total words from a sample of Grade 3 through Grade 9 school 
texts. They clustered unique words into families where knowledge of the 
root word would support students in determining a related word’s meaning 
when that word was encountered in a text. A related word needed to be se- 
mantically transparent to be included in a family. That is, if the meaning of 
the related word could be inferred with knowledge of the ancestor or origi- 
nal word and the context of text, the word was classified as semantically 
transparent. According to their definition, words within a family related to 
the word know would include knowledge, known, knowing, knowledgeable, but 
not know-nothing. Based on this definition, Nagy and Anderson (1984) esti- 
mated that school texts from Grades 3 through 9 contain approximately 88, 
5000 distinct word families. For each word that students know, there are ap- 
proximately two semantically transparent derivatives. 

Even if it can be assumed that third graders know approximately 25,000 
semantic families (Nagy & Anderson, 1984), the instructional task of pro- 
moting the word meanings for the additional 63,500 semantic families that 
will appear in texts from Grades 3 to 9 is formidable. The instructional task 



needs to be viewed from the vantage point of what it means to know a word 
and which vocabulary (i.e., productive-receptive, oral-print) is assessed. 
Even in teaching a specific group of words, the range of words is sufficiently 
large that students need to develop a generative stance toward vocabulary. 
That is, the meanings of specific words need to be taught in ways that sup- 
port students in understanding how words are connected semantically and 
morphologically (Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2004). 

The Words That Should Be Taught 

As the summary of the primary findings of the NRP (NICHD, 2000) indi- 
cated, vocabularies are expanded and elaborated in multiple ways. How- 
ever, whereas the opportunities for learning words may be myriad, the 
effects of comprehension on vocabulary were found most consistently 
when at least some words are taught directly. The mandate of the NRP to 
focus on instructional research meant that the critical question of curricu- 
lum or identifying which words are best taught was not addressed. Educa- 
tors and policymakers are left with the question of identifying which 
words, from among the thousands of words that students will encounter in 
their school careers, should be taught directly. Answers to this question 
are a focus of several authors in this volume, particularly those whose 
chapters appear in Part III. 

Word frequency is one variable that will be proposed. According to Beck 
and her colleagues (chapter 10, this volume), frequency should be applied 
by ignoring the most frequent and the least frequent words, concentrating 
on the middle levels of words. The argument is that the most frequent 
words are probably already known and that the least frequent words should 
be taught when they occur in reading. 

Importance and utility are dearly factors that should guide the selection of 
words to be taught. These criteria suggest that only words that are of some use 
for students — words that they will see and use sufficiently often — should be 
taught explicitly. However, this criterion should be applied with the fre- 
quency criterion in mind. As students are likely to know many high-fre- 
quency words, these are not good candidates for the importance criterion. 

Instructional potential is another criterion that is clearly related to the 
selection ofwords for explicit vocabulary instruction. That is, as suggested 
by many of the authors of chapters in this volume, vocabulary instruction 
should make sense in the context of the reading lesson. Words that are re- 
lated to the selection, the content, or to a thematic unit have instructional 
potential and should be considered high on the list of candidates for ex- 
plicit instruction. 

There is also an oral component that should be considered. The vocabu- 
lary theory presented earlier suggests that younger students have a greater 



oral vocabulary than reading vocabulary. For older students, this relation- 
ship is probably reversed. The presence or absence of oral vocabulary 
knowledge should be a consideration in the explicit instruction of reading 
vocabulary items. Of course, conceptual understanding is an important cri- 
terion, even though it is often neglected in discussions of vocabulary. 

Finally, repetition is a factor that, although acknowledged in learning 
theories that range from behaviorism to information processing (Stillings 
et al., 1987), has not been addressed recently as a factor in the acquisition 
of receptive, written vocabularies. Older research did consider this ques- 
tion. Gates (1930) estimated the total number of explicit repetitions first 
graders needed for learning a word based on intelligence quotient (IQ). 
The number that stayed in the minds of publishers (and educators) for de- 
cades was the one assigned to the middle IQ group (90-109): 35 repeti- 
tions. Students with high IQs (120-129) needed only 20, Gates 
hypothesized, whereas students with IQs from 60-69 needed 55 repeti- 
tions. As were many of his era. Gates was concerned with IQ as an indicator 
of learning ability. Today we no longer accept this one-dimensional view 
of learning ability. What is valuable is that Gates and his counterparts saw 
the learning of a word to result from numerous repetitions. Except for 
very noteworthy occasions (e.g., the first time turbulence is experienced on 
a plane — and this involves an oral vocabulary), single exposures to words 
are unlikely to produce the desired learning. 

Although repetitions are important, it is less clear how sufficient expo- 
sure to particular words should be accomplished. For example, spacing of 
exposure over time is more effective in the learning of most content than 
bunching the learning in a single session (Donovan & Radosevich, 1999). 
However, evidence for spaced presentations came from studies where in- 
struction was explicit and where words often appeared in lists or singly, not 
in texts. How this transfer to the incidental learning that takes place when 
students encounter words in, for example, reading self-selected or even as- 
signed texts on their own is unclear. 

Addressing the Needs of English-Language Learners 
and Potentially At-Risk Students 

A consistent 40% of a fourth-grade cohort falls into the below-basic category 
on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; Donahue, 
Finnegan, Lutkus, Allen, & Campbell, 2001). This figure has not changed 
substantially over the past decade, despite various school reform efforts. 
Overly represented among this below-basic group are students whose fami- 
lies qualify for free/reduced-price school lunches. Whereas 24% of students 
not eligible for free/reduced-price school lunches had scores in the be- 
low-basic category, 55% of those eligible fall into the below-basic category. 



Furthermore, a substantial percentage of these students live in contexts 
where poverty is not the only variable in which their homes differ from the 
mainstream culture of schools. The NAEP presents achievement level re- 
sults on race/ethnicity by five groups: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific 
Islander, and American Indian/ Alaska Native. Of these five groups, the ma- 
jority of two of these five groups perform at the below-basic level: Black (ap- 
proximately 60% in 2003) and Hispanic (approximately 56% in 2003). 

The practices that are described in this volume, particularly the in- 
structional interventions described in Part II and the curricular plans of 
Part III, need to be implemented intentionally and strategically for 
groups of students who are consistently failing to attain the high literacy 
levels required for full participation in the digital age. However, there 
are substantial differences between students within the Hispanic group 
who are native Spanish speakers and students who are native speakers of 
English. We address the linguistic resources of native Spanish speakers 
first and then move to the issue of ameliorating potential vocabulary 
gaps that may result from poverty. 

Linguistic Resources of Native Spanish Speakers. Understanding the 
connections between Romance languages and English is critical for the in- 
struction of all learners. However, with native speakers of Spanish account- 
ing for an increasing percentage of school-age children (U.S. Census, 2001) 
and the continued below-basic performances of a majority of Hispanic stu- 
dents (Donahue et al., 2001), this attention is particularly salient. 

As chapters in this volume by Calderon et al. (chapter 6) and Carlo et al. 
(chapter 7) illustrate, a critical aspect of Spanish that has been left ignored 
in the vocabulary programs of textbooks iri the United States is the connec- 
tion between “everyday” words in Spanish and the Latin roots of many aca- 
demic or literary words in English. With French, Portuguese, Italian, and 
Romanian, Spanish is one of a handful of Romance languages that has its 
origins in Latin. English has its linguistic roots in the Germanic languages 
of the Angles and the Saxons. When the Normans conquered England in 
1066, a layer of Latin-based, French words was added to label concepts for 
which Anglo-Saxons had Germanic-based words. Coupled with the univer- 
sal use of Latin words in science, this layer added to a preponderance of 
Latin-based words to English. Typically, written discourse, especially that of 
academic texts, uses words from the Latin-derived system of English to a 
greater degree than does speech. Instead of using Anglo-Saxon-based 
words such as bug, cold, dig, enough, and first, writers of narrative or exposi- 
tory literature are likely to use words such as insect, frigid, excavate, sufficient, 
and primary. As Spanish is an immediate descendant of Latin (rather than a 
secondary one, like English), some of the common words in Spanish are 
closer to these literary and academic words. A list of 10 common words in 



Spanish and their relationship to the literary and academic English words is 
illustrated in Table 1 .2. This may make it easier for ELL students to under- 
stand these words if they recognize that they can use their knowledge of 
Spanish to assist in reading English. All shared cognates in Spanish and 
English are not of this type where the Spanish word is more literary or aca- 
demic than the English word. There are also many cases where the shared 
cognate is a commonly used word (e.g., animal/animal, plant/planta). 

TABLE 1.2 

1 0 Common English Words & Their Latin & Spanish Equivalents 




English literary/academic words 

Latin root 

common word 


Valiant, valid, value, valorous, valor 


(to be strong) 



Insect, insecticide, insectivore, 




Frigid, Frigid Zones: 
South & North 

Frigus (coldness, 



Cavern(ous), cave, cavity, excavate 

Cavus (hollow) 



Vacant, vacate, vacancy 


(to be empty) 



Sufficient, suffice, sufficiency 

(to provide) 



Prime, primate, primal, primacy, 
primary, primarily, primer, 
primitive, primeval, primogeniture, 
primordial, primordium; phrases: 
prima facie, prima donna 

Primus (first) 



Significance, significant 





Lunar, Luna, lunacy, lunatic, 
lunation, lunarian phrases: 
lunar month, lunar year 

Luna (moon) 



Vendor, vender, vend, venal 

Venus (sale) 



Solar, solstice, solarium 

Sol (the sun) 



Arbor, arboraceous, arboreal, 

Arbor (tree) 



Lather, lathery, lavender 
(originally used as a bath perfume), 
lavatory, lavation, laver, lavish 

(to wash) 




There are also a substantial number of words where both the Spanish and 
English cognate are unknown by most elementary-level students, especially 
in the primary grades (e.g., terrarium/terrario, adaptation! adaptation). How- 
ever, in a subject area such as science (Bravo, Hiebert, & Pearson, 2004), the 
percentage of cognates where the Spanish word is a high-frequency word 
can account for as much as one third of the critical theme words. 

Some native speakers of Spanish who are taught to read in English make 
these connections (Nagy, Garcia, Durgunoglu, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993). 
Many do not. A neglected aspect of instruction has often been the genera- 
tive nature of the Latin-based cognates. For native speakers of English and 
speakers of native languages that are not Romance languages, such instruc- 
tion is essential. For native Spanish speakers (and smaller percentages of 
children who enter American schools speaking one of the other Romance 
languages), failing to build on this knowledge base is a missed opportunity. 

Although it is erroneous to believe that simple cognate instruction will 
ameliorate the achievement gap for Hispanic students, a modicum of in- 
structional emphasis on cognates can lead to increased achievement 
(Jimenez, Garcia, & Pearson, 1995). This instruction, of course, has limits. 
Nash (1997) produced a compendium of 20,000 cognates in Spanish and 
English, but many words are ones that elementary-level students are un- 
likely to have encountered in Spanish, such as the Greek-derived words 
that are used internationally in science and commerce for new inventions 
(e.g., bionics). However, Nash estimates that for Spanish and English, 
cognates account for between 30% and 50% of academic language. As aca- 
demic language is the language of school, this is clearly a resource than 
should not be overlooked. 

Much more scholarship is needed about the literacy learning of nonna- 
tive speakers of English. Despite the fact that Spanish speakers make up the 
overwhelming majority of nonnative English speakers in this country, 
scholarship needs to be directed to the students who speak one of the other 
383 languages reported on the most recent U.S. Census (2001). A panel 
that extends the efforts of the National Reading Panel to English-Language 
Learners — the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children 
and Youth, of which several contributors to this volume (August, Beck, 
Kamil, and Calderon) are a part — is examining this research, although the 
preliminary reports point to the paucity of the research on ELL. 

Students Potentially At Risk. Research findings that are described in 
several chapters are those of Hart and Risley (1995, 1999). This research 
team followed the daily lives of 42 families in which, initially, the children 
were between 1 and 2 years of age. The amount of language experience be- 
fore age 3 accounted for all of the correlation between socioeconomic status 
(SES) and verbal-intellectual competence of children at age 3 and then 



again at ages 9-10. Prior to age 3, children in welfare families had heard 
176 utterances per hour, whereas their peers in working-class and profes- 
sional families had heard 301 and 487 utterances, respectively, during the 
same period. All families talked to young children to ensure their needs or 
safety (“Don’t touch the stove.”). Where families were different was in what 
Hart and Risley characterized as extra talk. Extra talk went beyond the ev- 
eryday business of family life such as questions about books that children 
had heard or about experiences that the family had shared such as a trip to a 
store or park. Unlike their counterparts in professional families, the chil- 
dren in welfare families were infrequently asked questions such as “What 
did you do when we went to Nana’s last time?” that required them to de- 
scribe and elaborate experiences. 

The role of texts in the development of rich conversations is likely criti- 
cal, although researchers such as Hart and Risley do not separate the ef- 
fects of talk around books from parent conversation. Even professional 
parents typically do not use words such as charming or knapsack (words 
used in a popular read-aloud for young children; Hoban, 1964) or monu- 
mental and cellar (words used in another popular read-aloud for young 
children; Wells, 1973). 

The projects of Dickinson and Tabors (2001), as well as that of 
Schwanenftugel and colleagues (chapter 8, this volume), illustrate ef- 
forts to translate findings such as these into preschool contexts. How- 
ever, school-age children continue to need to be part of rich classroom 
talk environments. Snow and her colleagues (Snow, Barnes, Chandler, 
Goodman, & Hemphill, 2000; Blum-Kulka & Snow, 2002) also demon- 
strate how opportunities to interact with adults influence the vocabulary 
of school-age children. According to Snow et al. (2000): “Our findings 
suggest that ten or twenty minutes a day alone with an adult is more than 
most children have access to, but that even so little time can make a dif- 
ference in children’s vocabularies and in their reading comprehension 
skills” (p. 171). 

Texts provide an ideal context in which to foster at least some of this rich 
classroom talk, as Beck et al. describe in chapter 10 in this book. When the 
design of activities in classrooms will need to be arranged carefully, amelio- 
rating the vocabulary gap may be within the realm of possibility. This sug- 
gestion comes from the extensive experiences that language educators 
have had, such as those in the Army Language School. In the latter context, 
adults have been able to develop near-native competence in Vietnamese af- 
ter approximately 1,300 hours of instruction (Walberg, Hase, & Rasher, 
1 978). Using those numbers as a guide, a child who spends about 1 0 hours a 
day in school, in play, and with media in English might gain comparable, al- 
though seemingly natural and effortless, experience in 130 days (Walberg 
etal., 1978, p. 428). 



The Kinds and Amounts of Appropriate Independent Reading 
in Vocabulary Learning 

Substantial differences have been documented in the amounts that stu- 
dents of different achievement levels read as part of reading instruction 
(Biemiller, 1977-1978; Juel, 1990). Furthermore, strong connections 
have been shown between wide reading, reading achievement, and vocab- 
ulary acquisition (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). Good and poor read- 
ers read for vastly different amounts outside of school. In a study where 
fourth and fifth graders tracked their out-of-school reading, Anderson, 
Wilson, and Fielding (1988) found that students at the 98th percentile 
rank reported 65 minutes daily. Over a year-long period, a student read- 
ing for this amount daily would read around 4.4 million words. Declines 
were sharp after this point. By approximately the 75th percentile, stu- 
dents averaged approximately 12 minutes of reading daily, covering 
around 884,000 words annually. Students at the 50th percentile read 4.6 
words daily, reading 282,000 words annually, whereas students at the 25th 
percentile read about a minute daily, reading around 60,000 words annu- 
ally. In a million words of text, students will have been exposed to a core 
group of 5,580 words 10 times or more — and they will have encountered 
many more words. 

However, such data leave unanswered the question of whether good 
readers are good because they read more or whether they simply choose to 
read more because they are good readers. In the National Reading Panel’s 
review of existing data, few well-conducted experimental studies on the ef- 
fects of independent reading were found. Among the existing studies, most 
researchers reported small or no gains, or even slightly negative results, in 
reading achievement as a result of such classroom activity (Carver 8c 
Liebert, 1995; Holt & O’Tuel, 1989; Vollands, Topping, & Evans, 1999). 

The Panel did not reject the practice but called for more experimental 
evidence before implementing this as a routine classroom practice. The 
form that this reading should take and the levels and types of text that 
should form the focus of this reading remain to be documented in exper- 
imental studies. Particular areas in which this research could be particu- 
larly illuminating pertain to whether independent reading can be 
designed and implemented to ensure features of effective vocabulary in- 
struction identified by the Panel and summarized in Table 1.1. For ex- 
ample, can independent reading contexts enhance the active 
engagement in learning tasks that the Panel found to characterize effec- 
tive vocabulary learning (#5, Table 1.1)? Does independent reading 
provide the repeated and multiple exposures to vocabulary (#2, Table 
1.1)? Can computer technology be used in ways that improve the efficacy 
of independent reading (#6, Table 1.1)? 




As is evident in the scholarship reviewed in this chapter, the relationship 
between vocabulary and literacy is impossible to separate. To be literate 
necessitates and supports a rich vocabulary. The work in this volume 
brings together the work of scholars whose goal it is to have vocabulary 
experiences that support conceptual learning and comprehension of 
text. Even during the past two decades when vocabulary research has 
been limited (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002), these scholars have 
continued to examine how best to support vocabulary and comprehen- 
sion. In particular, many of these scholars are considering the nature of 
vocabulary learning in relation to the diversity that is present in many 
current-day classrooms. 

We have organized this research into three sections that can help the ed- 
ucators who read this book to frame policies and practices. Our intention 
was to write this for educators who are responsible for educational policy 
and practice, whether at a regional, state, county, or district level. 

Part I develops the rationale. To begin school reform, the rationale for 
initiating or eliminating instruction and content needs to be understood by 
participants. Nagy (chapter 2) reviews the rationale for a comprehensive 
and long-term vocabulary program. Without understanding the manner in 
which vocabulary develops, it is unlikely that vocabulary will be given either 
the priority or the kind of attention required to develop the foundational 
vocabularies children need. The relationship between vocabulary and liter- 
acy is a unique one, as we have developed in this chapter. Cunningham 
(chapter 3) and Scott (chapter 4) describe in detail the manner in which vo- 
cabulary is extended through text. Scott’s chapter addresses a research lit- 
erature that has not been considered carefully in the recent creation of 
school reading programs — the characteristics of texts in which words are 
(or are not) learned. 

Part II addresses the manner in which instruction is implemented. The 
section begins with Stahl’s comprehensive presentation (chapter 5) of how 
different kinds of words need to be treated and what constitutes the varied, 
rich methods for knowing words that the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 
2000) described. This overview is followed by four chapters that describe 
specific vocabulary treatments. In each case, the researchers have designed 
instruction for a specific group of students and tested its effectiveness. 

The chapters by Calderon and colleagues (chapter 6) and by Carlo and 
colleagues (chapter 7) describe a vocabulary treatment with students 
whose first language is Spanish. This instruction is illustrative of the alter- 
native stance described earlier in the chapter, where knowledge of Span- 
ish is used as a linguistic resource in becoming more adept at reading 
literary and academic English. 



The two subsequent chapters present instructional interventions at two 
ends of the developmental continuum. Schwanenflugel and colleagues 
(chapter 8) describe a program that aims to build a foundation for children 
during their most fertile language learning years — in preschool. Baumann 
and colleagues (chapter 9) describe the kind of instruction that supports 
students in the middle grades and beyond. To read the many rare words 
that occur in different content area texts and in literature, students require 
strategies and skills in the manner in which affixes affect root word mean- 
ing. Readers of these texts also need to make use of context for those rare 
words that are central to these texts. Baumann et al. describe a program in 
which knowledge of both semantic families and context are developed. 

There was a dilemma about whether Part III should be aligned with the 
first — the role of curriculum, or what words to teach. We decided to put it at the 
end because it integrates the issues of learning and of instruction. It is also the 
area in which the least amount of work has often been done. We believe it to be 
a good ending point. Without addressing domains of words that we wish stu- 
dents to get good at, selecting the texts that they read and designing lessons 
around these texts will be difficult. It also indicates the point that has been least 
studied — and the cutting edge. It is likely the most challenging of issues. 

Concluding this volume with the topic of what words to teach demonstrates 
that techniques have been validated (NICHD, 2000) but a substantia] 
amount of research continues to be needed. By the same token, as is evident 
in the chapters in this book and the report of the National Reading Panel 
(NICHD, 2000), much is known about the need for strong vocabulary in- 
struction and the features of such instruction. If the goal of higher levels of 
comprehension is to be achieved, then vocabulary instruction requires in- 
tensive and extensive attention. 


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Why Vocabulary Instruction Needs 
to Be Long-Term and 

William Nagy 
Seattle Pacific University 

Of the many benefits of having a large vocabulary, none is more valuable 
than the positive contribution that vocabulary size makes to reading compre- 
hension. One of the main goals of vocabulary instruction, therefore, is to help 
students improve their comprehension. This choice of goals is important be- 
cause of its implications for both the content and the methods of instruction. 
If the goal were to teach words in a way that would improve students’ perfor- 
mance on multiple-choice vocabulary tests, the goal could be achieved 
through many simple and relatively undemanding methods. However, if the 
goal is to teach words in a way that will improve students’ comprehension of 
text that contains these words, the methods become more labor- and time-in- 
tensive (McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Pople, 1985). 

We already know a fair amount about what kind of vocabulary instruction 
is most effective for improving reading comprehension (e.g., Stahl, 1986; 
Stahl 8c Fairbanks, 1986). However, the relationship between vocabulary 
knowledge and reading comprehension is complex (e.g., Anderson & 
Freebody, 1981; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002). If instruction is to 
further the goal of improved comprehension, we need to take into account 
the complexities of this relationship. Indeed, every wrinkle in the vocabu- 
lary-comprehension relationship suggests something about what might 
make vocabulary instruction more effective for the purpose of promoting 




reading comprehension. This chapter discusses specific examples of com- 
plexity in the vocabulary-comprehension relationship and explores some 
of the implications of these complexities for instruction. 


I begin with a description of the basic features of long-term, comprehensive 
instruction, the rationale for which I develop in this chapter. Other chap- 
ters in this book provide extensive details about what effective vocabulary 
instruction looks like. Only a brief overview is provided here to ensure that 
the reader understands the type of instruction for which I am developing a 

Effective vocabulary instruction is a long-term proposition. Attention to 
vocabulary growth has to start early, in preschool, and continue throughout 
the school years. Although the exact nature of effective instruction changes 
across grade levels, the focus on and commitment to vocabulary instruction 
is a sustaining component of schooling. Effective instruction must also be 
multifaceted, encompassing: teaching individual words; extensive expo- 
sure to rich language, both oral and written; and building generative word 

Teaching Individual Words 

Teaching individual words is what commonly comes to mind when we talk 
about vocabulary instruction. A number of studies have shown that for vo- 
cabulary instruction to increase the comprehension of texts that contain the 
instructed words, it must be fairly intensive (e.g., McKeown et al., 1985; 
Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). Intensive or rich vocabulary instruction requires 
giving students both definitional and contextual information (i.e., informa- 
tion about what a word means and about how it is used), and providing them 
with opportunities to process this information deeply by applying it in ways 
that require creativity and connections with their existing knowledge. Fur- 
thermore, a number of instructional encounters — somewhere between 7 
and 12 — are necessary if students are to achieve real ownership of the in- 
structed words (Stahl, 1986). 

The kind of vocabulary instruction that can demonstrably increase read- 
ing comprehension is thus rather labor intensive. Only a portion of the 
words that students need to learn can be covered with such instruction. 
Some words must necessarily be dealt with more superficially, although 
there is little research that documents under what conditions less intensive 
instruction would be effective. But to promote the large-scale, long-term 
vocabulary growth that is necessary for academic success, we need to do 



more than teach individual words. This brings us to the other two compo- 
nents of effective vocabulary instruction, extensive exposure to rich lan- 
guage and building generative word knowledge. 

Exposure to Rich Language 

Extensive exposure to both oral and written language is likewise essential to 
effective instruction. Wide reading, in my opinion, is the primary engine 
that drives vocabulary growth for older and more able readers. However for 
younger and for less able readers, experiences with rich oral language are 
critical for vocabulary growth (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Beck, McKeown, & 
Kucan, 2002; Biemiller, 1999). Therefore, if they are to have any chance of 
acquiring sufficient vocabulary knowledge to get meaning from text, their 
teachers must make effective use of classroom activities such as reading 
aloud, storytelling, pretend play, and even routine classroom conversa- 
tions, to promote oral vocabulary growth. 

The need for exposure to rich language is especially acute for older, less 
able readers — students who tend to have limited vocabularies. It is unlikely 
that these students will (or can) read widely enough to make a difference to 
their vocabulary growth. Although increasing such students’ ability and mo- 
tivation to read is essential, teachers must also find ways to use oral lan- 
guage as a means of increasing their vocabularies. Effective use of 
discussion is perhaps the most important tool, but reading aloud to older 
students should not be ruled out. 

Many researchers believe that a substantial proportion of vocabulary 
growth occurs as children gradually learn the meanings of new words 
through repeated encounters with the words in text or in conversation. A 
review of the research on learning words from context indicates that the 
chances of learning the meaning of a particular word after encountering it 
once in context are relatively low, somewhere around 15% (Swanborn & de 
Glopper, 1999). Exposure to rich language is essential for promoting vo- 
cabulary growth, but the benefits of such exposure accumulate slowly. 

Generative Word Knowledge 

Generative word knowledge is vocabulary knowledge that can transfer to 
the learning of new words. There is a tendency to think of vocabulary knowl- 
edge as consisting of isolated, memorized information about the meanings 
of specific words, but such a conception is clearly inadequate. A variety of 
types of knowledge about words contributes to word learning. Most obvi- 
ously, there are word-learning strategies, such as the use of context and 
word parts, that can be taught to students to make them better word learn- 
ers (e.g., Edwards, Font, Baumann, & Boland, 2004). Effective word learn- 



ers also possess knowledge about what constitutes a possible word meaning, 
which helps them distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information 
in the context (Nagy &Gentner, 1990; Nagy & Scott, 1990). A number of re- 
searchers have argued for the importance of word consciousness in word 
learning. I interpret the term word consciousness broadly, to include a in- 
terest in and awareness of various aspects of words — their meanings, their 
histories, relationships with otherwords, word parts, and most importantly, 
the way writers use words effectively to communicate (Blachowicz & Fisher, 
2004; Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2002; Johnson, Johnson, & Schlichting, 2004; 
Scott & Nagy, 2004). 

An effective approach to vocabulary instruction should address all three 
of these components — teaching individual words, exposure to rich lan- 
guage, and generative word knowledge (Graves, 2000). And in fact there 
are a number of instructional interventions that attempt to do so. For exam- 
ple, Beck and McKeown’s Text Talk is a very promising example of a com- 
prehensive approach to vocabulary growth for younger students (Beck & 
McKeown, 2001; McKeown & Beck, 2003; see also Beck, McKeown, & 
Kucan, chapter 10, this book). Likewise, the Vocabulary Enrichment Pro- 
gram described by Foorman, Seals, Anthony, and Pollard-Duradola (2003) 
is a comprehensive approach, as is the instructional program described in 
chapter 7 of this book by Carlo, August, and Snow. 

The goal of this chapter, however, is not to describe programs of effective 
instruction but to provide a rationale for these programs. This rationale is 
predicated on the idea that when we understand the causal links between 
vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension, it changes how we 
think about vocabulary instruction. A good place to begin is by examining 
several hypotheses that have been proposed previously about these causal 



Vocabulary knowledge is correlated with reading comprehension, with the 
correlations tending to be around .6 to .7 (Anderson & Freebody, 1981). 
However, the existence of a correlation does not tell us anything specific 
about the nature, or the direction, of the causal relationships that may un- 
derlie it. 

The Instrumentalist Hypothesis 

The commonsense model of the relationship between vocabulary knowl- 
edge and reading comprehension is that knowing more words makes some- 
one a better reader. That is, there is a causal connection between vocabulary 



size and the ability to comprehend text. Anderson and Freebody (1981) la- 
beled this model the instrumentalist hypothesis. 

One might wonder why this is called a hypothesis. It is obviously true — just 
try to read a text that contains a lot of words that you do not know. Indeed, a 
number of studies have demonstrated that teaching words can improve com- 
prehension (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). 

The instrumentalist hypothesis seems perfectly reasonable until we real- 
ize that the correlation between vocabulary and comprehension might be 
the result of other factors. 

The problem with the instrumentalist hypothesis is not that it is wrong, 
but that it is incomplete (and hence misleading, if one takes it to be the 
whole picture). 

The Knowledge Hypothesis 

As one alternative to the instrumentalist hypothesis, Anderson and Freebody 
(1981) also proposed the knowledge hypothesis, which emphasizes the role 
of readers’ background knowledge in comprehension. Simply put, it is not 
knowing the meanings of words that causes readers to understand what they 
read; rather, knowing the meanings of words is an indication of the readers’ 
knowledge of a topic or concept. It is this knowledge that helps readers com- 
prehend. This hypothesis can be illustrated by the following scenario: 

Imagine that you have students read a passage about baseball and, after 
the reading, test their comprehension of the passage. Prior to their reading 
of the text, however, you had also given them a vocabulary test that contains 
baseball terminology not used in the passage. Think about the relationship 
between the scores on this vocabulary test and the passage comprehension 
test. Would you expect them to be correlated? Yes, because students who 
know more about baseball, and therefore know its special vocabulary, are 
likely to better understand a passage about baseball. The fact that the exact 
words from the vocabulary test were not in the comprehension passage does 
not matter. Knowledge about baseball is essential, and knowledge of spe- 
cific baseball words is part of, and symptomatic of, that knowledge. But it is 
not just knowing the words that is essential for comprehension. It is know- 
ing the concepts and their relationships. According to the knowledge hy- 
pothesis, then, there is a causal link from knowledge to comprehension, 
and vocabulary knowledge is only one small part of the knowledge base that 
contributes to reading comprehension. 

The Aptitude Hypothesis 

The aptitude hypothesis offers yet another account of the correlation be- 
tween vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. One reason that 



two variables may be correlated is that some third variable is linked causally 
to both of them. People who are 5 feet tall tend (in the majority of cases, at 
least) to know more than people who are 3 feet tall. This is not because be- 
ing tall makes people knowledgeable, nor because knowing things makes 
people tall, but because getting older (at least within a certain age range) 
tends to increase both height and knowledge. 

The aptitude hypothesis suggests that people who have large vocabularies 
are better at understanding what they read because a third factor affects both 
vocabulary and comprehension, this third factor having something to do 
with verbal aptitude. For example, because having high verbal IQs makes for 
better readers and better word learners, people who have high verbal IQs 
would tend both to understand text better and to have acquired large vocabu- 
laries. Furthermore, this relationship could be true, at least in theory, even if 
no direct causal connection exists between vocabulary and comprehension. 
Most second graders, for example, might have acquired all of their vocabu- 
lary knowledge through oral language rather than through reading. Yet 
their vocabulary size would still be correlated with their reading comprehen- 
sion because the verbal abilities that make some children better word learn- 
ers would also make them better comprehenders. 

Specific versions of the aptitude hypothesis can be formulated, depending 
on the particular ability or abilities that are thought to make an especially im- 
portant contribution to the vocabulary-comprehension relationship. Stern- 
berg and Powell (1983), for example, suggest that the ability to make 
inferences is important both for reading comprehension and for learning the 
meanings of new words that readers encounter as they read. 

I suggest a slightly different spin on the aptitude hypothesis, which could 
be called the metalinguistic hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, part 
of the correlation between tests of vocabulary knowledge and reading com- 
prehension is due to the fact that both require metalinguistic aware- 
ness — that is, the ability to reflect on and manipulate language. Indeed, 
vocabulary learning can be a very metalinguistically demanding task (Nagy 
& Scott, 2000). Vocabulary instruction requires students to think about 
words and their meanings in relatively abstract ways. 

Likewise, reading comprehension, in part, is also a metalinguistically de- 
manding task. Written language is typically decontextualized. Unlike con- 
versation, relatively few clues exist outside the language itself that aid us in 
constructing meaning. In conversation, we have intonation, gesture, facial 
expressions, the ability to ask questions when necessaiy, a shared physical 
environment, and, most of the time, large amounts of shared knowledge 
that can be alluded to rather than stated explicitly. To take part in a conver- 
sation successfully, we have to attend to all these potential sources of infor- 
mation. When reading, however, we are dependent on the text itself. When 
comprehension breaks down, we must be able to reflect on the language of 



the text if we want to make sense of it. Strategies for comprehension moni- 
toring and repair almost invariably require some type of metalinguistic 
ability. Recognizing that we do not understand a passage because we do not 
know the meaning of a word, for example, involves metalinguistic as well as 
metacognitive skill. 

The metalinguistic hypothesis, then, explains part of the correlation be- 
tween vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension by appealing to 
the fact that vocabulary tests, like reading comprehension tests, are tests of 
the ability to deal with decontextualized language, and both are therefore 
dependent on metalinguistic skill. 

The Access Hypothesis 

The basic point of the access hypothesis (Mezynski, 1 983) is that to be useful 
in comprehension, the words students are taught must become known well 
enough that they can be accessed quickly and easily. In other words, com- 
prehension depends on depth of word knowledge as well as breadth. Of 
course, depth and breadth of word knowledge are correlated; people who 
know more words tend as well to know more about each of the words they 
know. As they read, they are able to come up with the correct meanings of 
words quickly, and it is this fluency that contributes most directly to their 
reading comprehension. 

As Anderson and Freebody (1981) pointed out, these hypotheses are not 
mutually exclusive, and all are likely to be at least part of the truth. The 
problem arises in trying to determine their relative contribution to the vo- 
cabulary-comprehension correlation. The situation is further complicated, 
of course, by the fact that the relative contribution of these three hypotheses 
may be dependent on the particular combination of reader, text, and pur- 
pose for reading. For example, if I am an adult reading an article about a 
topic with which I am familiar but in a language that I do not know very well, 
my lack of vocabulary knowledge will be the primary source of my difficulty 
in understanding the text, thus making the instrumentalist hypothesis the 
best account of my comprehension problems. However, if I were to learn 
that language a little better, and then read an article in that language on a 
topic with which I am very familiar, the knowledge hypothesis might be a 
good explanation for the fact that my comprehension is much greater than 
would be expected on the basis of my linguistic competence. 


Assuming that these hypotheses are all at least partly true, together they 
form a somewhat complex picture of the causal relationships between vo- 



cabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. However, there is yet 
more potential complexity to the vocabulary-comprehension relationship. 
Two additional aspects to this complexity to consider are (a) reciprocal links 
between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension and (b) indi- 
rect links between the two. 

The hypotheses discussed so far involved models in which the causal 
links between vocabulary and reading comprehension only go in one direc- 
tion. This is, of course, an oversimplification. There is every reason to be- 
lieve that the causal relationship between vocabulary knowledge and 
reading comprehension is reciprocal — it goes in both directions. Having a 
big vocabulary does contribute to being a better reader. But being a good 
reader also contributes to having a bigger vocabulary. One of the main rea- 
sons is that better readers do a lot more reading (Anderson, Wilson, & 
Fielding, 1988), and therefore have many more opportunities to learn new 
words. Hence, the amount of reading a person does plays an important role 
in the reciprocal relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading 
comprehension (see Fig. 2.1). 

FIG. 2.1. A reciprocal model of vocabulary and reading comprehension. 



Stanovich (1986) used vocabulary growth as an example of his 
well-known Matthew effects. The rich tend to get richer. Students with 
larger vocabularies understand text better and so they read more. As they 
read more, they learn additional words, which makes their vocabularies 
even larger. Conversely, the poor tend to get poorer. Students with smaller 
vocabularies do not understand text as well, and as a consequence are likely 
to read less. The less they read, the less their vocabulary growth. Over time, 
the gap between less successful and more successful students can widen. 

A breakdown anywhere in this cycle affects the entire process and turns it 
into a truly vicious cycle. For example, if students have trouble decoding, 
they will read less and gain less vocabulary knowledge. Or if a student can 
decode well, but does not have access to reading materials, the same nega- 
tive trend can occur. 

Both positive and negative effects of the cycle spread and become general- 
ized over time. Students who read less end up, not just with smaller vocabu- 
laries, but with less knowledge on all the topics that better students have been 
reading about in their spare time. In addition, they fall behind in fluency be- 
cause they have less practice in reading. Thus, in the graphic shown in Fig. 
2.1, the circle containing the word “Vocabulary” should also contain all the 
other kinds of knowledge that can be gained by reading. By fifth grade, a stu- 
dent with a limited vocabulary has more than just a vocabulary problem. Be- 
cause of years of less exposure to text, such a student also has acquired less 
decoding skill, less fluency, and less of the various kinds of knowledge one 
gains through reading. Teaching this student all the difficult words in a text 
will not bring her or him to the same point as a student who has a larger vo- 
cabulary because the student with the larger vocabulary also has all of the 
benefits that come from the experiences that accompany vocabulary growth. 


Indirect causal links pose another kind of complexity in the vocabu- 
lary-comprehension relationship. That is, vocabulary knowledge may have 
an impact on other abilities, which in turn contribute to reading compre- 
hension. One such possible indirect link involves metalinguistic awareness. 
Evidence indicates that vocabulary knowledge may contribute to some 
types of metalinguistic awareness, which, in turn, can contribute to reading 
comprehension, either directly or indirectly, through the contribution of 
metalinguistic awareness to word recognition. Another possible indirect 
link involves the impact of vocabulary knowledge on word recognition. 

Figure 2.2 shows a generic schema of how vocabulary knowledge and 
metalinguistic awareness might be related to each other and to reading 









FIG. 2.2. Some hypothesized causal links between metalinguistic awareness, vocabu- 
lary knowledge, word recognition, and reading comprehension. 

• Vocabulary knowledge contributes to metalinguistic awareness. 

• Metalinguistic awareness contributes to word recognition. 

• Vocabulary also may contribute to word recognition. 

• Metalinguistic awareness may contribute to reading comprehension 
through means other than enhancing word recognition. 

• Most if not all of these relationships may be reciprocal (hence the 
two-headed arrows). 

To the extent that this picture is valid, vocabulary contributes both di- 
rectly and indirectly to reading comprehension. 

Some evidence indicates, for example, that vocabulary knowledge con- 
tributes to phonological awareness. The more words children know, the 
more likely they are to be analytic in their representation of the sounds of 
those words. This relationship is supported by several studies (e.g., 
Fowler, 1991; Gathercole, Hitch, Service, & Martin, 1997; Goswami, 
2001; Metsala, 1999; Metsala & Walley, 1998). Phonemic awareness, in 
turn, has an impact on word recognition (Ehri, Nunes, Willows, Schuster, 
Yaghoub-Zadeh, & Shanahan, 2001), which ultimately contributes to 
reading fluency and comprehension. 

It also appears that vocabulary may contribute to knowledge about print, 
and hence to word recognition. Dickinson, McCabe, Anastopoulos, 



Peisner-Feinberg, and Poe (2003) examined the emerging literacy knowl- 
edge of Head Start children, using an instrument called the Emergent Lit- 
eracy Profile. This profile primarily reflects knowledge about print, a 
precursor to word recognition. The researchers were particularly inter- 
ested in the effects of two independent variables: phonological awareness 
(as measured by the Early Phonological Awareness profile) and receptive 
vocabulary (as measured by the PPVT). A key finding of the study is that 
both vocabulary and phonological awareness made significant independ- 
ent contributions to the literacy measure. Thus, vocabulary knowledge ap- 
pears to make a direct contribution to word recognition, above and beyond 
any effect it may have via phonemic awareness. 

Dickinson et al. (2003) report another very interesting finding concern- 
ing the relationship of vocabulary knowledge and phonological awareness: 
For students who had limited phonological awareness, vocabulary was not 
related to early literacy. For students who had normal phonological aware- 
ness, vocabulary was linked to early literacy. Conversely, for students who 
had small vocabularies, phonological awareness was not related to early lit- 
eracy. For students with more normal vocabularies, phonological aware- 
ness was linked to early literacy. 

This may be a bit hard to visualize, so let me say it another way: If students’ 
vocabularies are too small, phonological awareness does not contribute to 
their knowledge about print. If students’ levels of phonological awareness are 
too low, vocabulary does not contribute to their knowledge about print. In 
other words, the extent to which phonological awareness contributes to 
knowledge about print depends on vocabulary and vice versa. 

The point is that each of these variables functions as a necessary but not 
sufficient condition. Students need to have a certain level of vocabulary 
knowledge for phonological awareness to be of any benefit to them in learn- 
ing to read, and they need to have a certain level of phonological awareness 
for vocabulary knowledge to be of any benefit in learning to read. Each ele- 
ment makes a contribution, but it may be a necessary ingredient for the oth- 
ers to function as well. 

In a study conducted with colleagues at the University of Washington 
(Nagy, Berninger, Abbott, Vaughn, & Vermeulen, 2003), we likewise found 
that for second graders at risk for failure in reading, oral vocabulary made a 
significant, unique contribution to word recognition, even when ortho- 
graphic, phonological, and morphological factors had been statistically 
controlled for. We also found that morphological awareness made a signifi- 
cant, unique contribution to reading comprehension, above and beyond 
that of vocabulary. These findings and those of Dickinson et al. (2003) thus 
provide evidence for the two diagonal lines in Fig. 2.2. 

It should be noted that the indirect links between vocabulary knowledge 
and reading comprehension just discussed are also likely to involve recipro- 



cal relationships. In particular, the relationship between vocabulary and 
morphological awareness is likely to go both ways: Knowing more words 
gives us more opportunities to become aware of relationships among words 
that share meaningful parts, and awareness of morphology should facilitate 
our learning of words that are related to others by prefixation, suffixation, 
or compounding. 


As the preceding discussion was intended to demonstrate, the causal links 
underlying the vocabulary-comprehension relationship are relatively com- 
plex. The instrumentalist, knowledge, aptitude, and access hypotheses 
each focus on a different aspect of this complexity. The possibility of recip- 
rocal and indirect links between vocabulary knowledge and reading com- 
prehension further complicates the picture. As already noted, these 
hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. All have at least some plausibility, 
and in some cases, empirical support. 

To the extent that vocabulary instruction is motivated by the causal rela- 
tionship between vocabulary and reading comprehension, we have to take 
the complexity of this relationship into account when we think about what 
constitutes effective vocabulary instruction. In the remainder of this chap- 
ter, I briefly sketch some implications of the picture of the vocabulary-com- 
prehension relationship that I outlined. 

The Instrumentalist Hypothesis 

According to instrumentalist hypothesis, word knowledge contributes di- 
rectly to reading comprehension; therefore, to improve comprehension, 
vocabulary should be taught. However, the fact that the instrumentalist hy- 
pothesis is only one causal connection in a complex network of causal links 
also has important implications. Vocabulary interventions are usually car- 
ried out with the expectation that a successful intervention will impact com- 
prehension. Despite some successes, however, the impact of vocabulary 
interventions on standardized measures of reading comprehension has 
been sporadic, and even when there is an effect, it is generally not sizeable. 

The fact that the instrumentalist hypothesis is only one part of a larger, 
more complex picture should lead us to have more modest expectations 
about what a vocabulary intervention can produce in terms of gains in com- 
prehension. The expectation that a short-term vocabulary intervention, 
whatever its quality, will produce large improvements in reading compre- 
hension is simply not realistic. 

This is not to say that vocabulary interventions are not worthwhile, or 
that they should not be expected to impact comprehension positively. But, 



as I hope the following sections make clearer, the complexity and reciprocal 
nature of the vocabulary-comprehension connection makes it much more 
likely that effects of vocabulary instruction will tend to be long-term and cu- 
mulative, rather than short-term and dramatic. The remaining hypotheses 
also tell us more specifically what effective vocabulary instruction should 
look like. 

The Knowledge Hypothesis 

The knowledge hypothesis implies that word meanings do not exist in isola- 
tion; rather, they are part of larger knowledge structures. As a result, it is 
not just word knowledge alone, but word knowledge combined with world 
knowledge that enables improved comprehension. For instruction to affect 
comprehension, therefore, vocabulary should be taught in conjunction 
with concepts and content. One of the attributes of effective vocabulary in- 
struction identified by Stahl (1986), and exemplified in the rich vocabulary 
instruction developed by Beck and her colleagues (e.g., Beck et al., 2002), is 
making connections between the instructed words and students’ prior 
knowledge and experiences. 

The Aptitude Hypothesis 

The instructional implications of the aptitude hypothesis vary, depending 
on the specific version that is used. In the version proposed by Sternberg 
and Powell (1983), the implication is that students should receive instruc- 
tion that helps them infer the meanings of new words. 

Two recent reviews of research on teaching students to infer the mean- 
ings of new words (Fukkink & de Glopper, 1998; Kuhn & Stahl, 1998) have 
indicated that such instruction, in fact, can help students learn the mean- 
ings of new words. An impact on comprehension of such instruction has not 
been demonstrated (Baumann, Edwards, Boland, Olejnik, & Kame’enui, 
2003). I suggest, however, that the implication of the aptitude hypothesis is 
that strategies for word learning and strategies for comprehension should 
not be taught separately. Some successful comprehension strategy pack- 
ages have a component that addresses unknown words — for example, the 
“clarification” component of reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 
1984), or the “clunk” component of Collaborative Strategic Reading 
(Klinger & Vaughn, 1999). 

The implication from the metalinguistic hypothesis is that having a large 
vocabulary and doing well on vocabulary tests is associated with being able to 
talk and think about language and, in particular, about word meanings. The 
implication for vocabulary instruction is that such instruction should aim not 



just at teaching new words, but at helping students learn to talk and think 
about language. That is, effective vocabulary instruction should promote 
word consciousness (Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2002; Scott 8c Nagy, 2004). Like- 
wise, vocabulary instruction, especially for younger children, should aim at 
increasing children’s facility with decontextualized language (McKeown & 
Beck, 2003), which depends heavily on metalinguistic awareness. 

The Access Hypothesis 

The instructional implication of the hypothesis is that words (some words, 
at least) need to be taught thoroughly. McKeown et al. (1985) indicate that 
students need to encounter a word as many as 1 2 times before they know it 
well enough to improve their comprehension. This suggests that for vocab- 
ulary instruction to be most effective, it must not only introduce important 
vocabulary words, but provide ways for students to solidify their under- 
standing of the words by seeing and using them multiple times. 

The Reciprocal Hypothesis 

What are the instructional implications of a reciprocal relationship between 
vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension? One obvious implica- 
tion is to start some form of vocabulary instruction as early as possible. The 
causal relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading compre- 
hension starts early, before children are reading connected text. Thus, the 
correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension for fifth grad- 
ers is notjust a matter of how much these students know about the meanings 
of the words in the text they are tested on. It reflects a long history of mutual 
facilitation between vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension, and a 
variety of other literacy-related abilities. If the goal is to increase children’s 
reading comprehension by teaching them vocabulary, it helps to start work- 
ing on their vocabularies when they are in preschool. 

The overriding implication of the reciprocal hypothesis, however, is the 
need to develop comprehensive literacy programs. “Balanced” is too weak a 
word because it implies that there are only two sides to be balanced. But in 
the cycle of learning that leads to vocabulary and comprehension growth, it 
is crucial to support students at each point in the cycle. Figure 2.3 illustrates 
some of the ways to make sure that each part of the cycle is functioning. 

Indirect Links Between Vocabulary and Comprehension 

I have argued that vocabulary knowledge also may have an indirect impact 
on reading comprehension through its relationship with morphological 



Teaching individual 
words, exposure to rich 
oral language, 
generative word 

Time to read, 
matching kids 







accuracy & 


FIG. 2.3 . Some instructional implications of a reciprocal model of vocabulary and read- 
ing comprehension. 

awareness, phonological awareness, and word recognition. One instruc- 
tional implication of such links is that the impact of vocabulary knowledge 
on literacy begins very early. Hence there is all the more reason for early at- 
tention to vocabulary instruction. The indirect links via morphological 
awareness also provide evidence for the importance of instruction on pre- 
fixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., Graves, 2004). 


In this chapter, I have tried to illustrate some of the complexity of the causal 
links between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. My main 



purpose has been to argue that this complexity constitutes a powerful ratio- 
nale for rich and multifaceted vocabulary instruction. Such instruction has 
to start early and must be kept up over the years, although what constitutes 
effective instruction changes with grade level. It must increase students’ 
generative word knowledge, as well as their knowledge of individual words. 
It must include increased exposure to rich oral language as well as wide 
reading, and it must be part of, and integrated into, a comprehensive liter- 
acy curriculum 

Effective vocabulary instruction includes components that might look 
like frills to some: spending valuable instructional time on building word 
consciousness, helping students to identify morphological and semantic re- 
lationships among words, increasing their sensitivity to words with multiple 
meanings and to contextual variations in meanings. 

My intent has been to give some reasons why these things are not frills; 
they are essential components of effective instruction. No one component is 
sufficient by itself, but each is important. We still need to figure out exactly 
how to combine the components in ways that create the most engaging and 
cognitively challenging instruction for all our students. However, we al- 
ready know enough to do better than we are often doing, especially for our 
youngest and our most vulnerable students. 


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Vocabulary Growth Through 

Independent Reading 

and Reading Aloud to Children 

Anne E. Cunningham 

University of California, Berkeley 

A young child sits quietly reading a storybook. The book tells the story of a little boy ’s ad- 
ventures on a very snowy day. The child reads, “He pretended he was a mountain- 
climber. He climbed up a great big tcdl heaping mountain of snow — and slid all the 
way down. ” The child pauses in reading to think about what he just read. He rereads 
the words "pretended” "mountain-climber,” “climbed,” “heaping,” and “slid.” He 
takes a minute to look at the pictures and consider the meaning of these words before 
reading on, “He picked up a handful of snow — and another and still another. He 
packed it r ound and firm and put the snowball in his pocket for tomorrow. Then he 
went into his warm house. ’’Again the child stops to consider a few more unfamiliar 
words: “handful, ” and “firm, ” and he notices that he has never seen the word “packed ” 
used in this way before. After deciding that he understands what the little boy is doing, 
he continues to read. 

— From A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 

As this child struggles to read the text, he encounters many new words. 
These are words for which he may or may not know the meaning. Yet in or- 
der to comprehend the text, the child is forced to learn the meaning of the 
unfamiliar words and incorporate them into his lexicon. 

The situation described is not unique. Children are constantly learning 
the meaning of words through their encounters with text. Vocabulary in- 




strucdon also plays a central role in vocabulary growth in school-age chil- 
dren (e.g., Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). However, across the life span, 
most researchers would agree that the bulk of vocabulary growth occurs inci- 
dentally through exposure to language. This process of vocabulary acquisi- 
tion occurs via two primary mechanisms: exposure to oral language and to 
written language. This chapter discusses how exposure to written language 
(i.e., print) contributes to children’s vocabulary development. 


The process of learning new words begins in infancy and continues 
throughout one’s adult life. It has been estimated that an 18-month-old 
child needs to learn an average of 5 new words a day in order to have an av- 
erage vocabulary of approximately 8,000 words by the time he or she is 6 
years old (Senechal & Cornell, 1993). The average student graduating from 
high school is estimated to know approximately 40,000 words (Nagy & 
Herman, 1985). In order to increase one’s vocabulary from 8,000 to 40,000 
in those 12 years, a child needs to learn a total of approximately 32,000 
words between 1 st grade and 1 2th grade, which translates to approximately 
7 words a day. The research suggests that children typically learn approxi- 
mately 3 ,000 words a year (over 8 words a day) between 3rd and 1 2th grades 
during the school year (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). On reflection, that seems 
like a lot of words each year. 

These impressive statistics leave us wondering where our children are 
learning all of these words. Recent research suggests there is a developmen- 
tal trajectory to vocabulary learning (Biemiller, 2001) and that when in- 
struction exploits the morphophonemic nature of our orthography, 
children can acquire a multiplicity of word meanings (e.g., magic yields 
knowledge of magician, magical, magically) through direct and systematic 
vocabulary instruction (Beck, McKeown, & McCaslin, 1983). However, 
when we consider that the average program of direct vocabulary instruction 
covers only a few hundred words and word parts per year, this type of vocab- 
ulary development just described seems to be beyond the scope of even the 
most intensive vocabulary instruction programs (Hiebert, chapter 12, this 
volume; Nagy & Herman, 1985). Even the most tailored and comprehen- 
sive instruction cannot shoulder all of the vocabulary learning that must 
take place in the school years and beyond. Thus, the argument is made that 
a substantial amount of vocabulary development occurs through incidental 
encounters with language (Sternberg, 1987). Not surprisingly, a conver- 
gent body of evidence supports this conclusion. 

Much of the research investigating the role of incidental learning in vo- 
cabulary development has focused on words encountered in the context of 



reading. For example, Nagy, Herman, and Anderson (1985) attempted to 
determine the amount of knowledge children acquire about unfamiliar 
words during natural reading. They asked 57 eighth-grade students to 
read one of two excerpts (approximately 1,000 words) taken from a ju- 
nior-high-level text. The students then completed a multiple-choice vo- 
cabulary test assessing their knowledge of 15 target words from the 
passage they read and 15 words from the alternative text. The multi- 
ple-choice test was designed to assess the amount or degree of knowledge 
about a word. Students were also asked to participate in an individual in- 
terview aimed at determining partial word knowledge. Results indicated 
that children made small but statistically reliable gains in word knowledge 
after reading words in context. Similar patterns have been found by Stahl 
(1999) and Sternberg & Powell (1983). 

McKeown (1985) also investigated the process by which children ac- 
quire unfamiliar word meanings through exposure to written language. 
She argued that various cognitive functions underlie vocabulary learning 
and, as a result, children of high and low verbal ability experience varying 
levels of success in the process of acquiring word meaning from context. In 
order to test this hypothesis, McKeown (1985) assessed the ability of 30 
fifth-grade children (15 high vocabulary ability, 15 low vocabulary ability) 
to derive the meaning of unfamiliar words from context by presenting 
them with 6 artificial words embedded in multiple sentences with varying 
levels of contextual support. Indeed, high vocabulary children were more 
successful in deriving the meaning of an unknown word from text and us- 
ing the new word in subsequent contexts. In contrast, children of low ver- 
bal ability experienced a misunderstanding of the relationship between 
words and context and demonstrated a semantic interference when con- 
sidering two contexts simultaneously. McKeown’s ( 1 985) work, along with 
the work of other researchers (e.g., Daneman & Green, 1986; Sternberg & 
Powell, 1983), demonstrates that there are certain conditions underwhich 
reading promotes vocabulary learning. 

Nagy, Anderson, and Herman (1987) argued that although it may be true 
that general verbal ability is associated with the process of successfully deriv- 
ing the meaning of unfamiliar words, it is unclear to what extent ability affects 
the volume of learning from context that occurs during normal reading. In 
order to more fully investigate the nature of incidental word learning and the 
role of ability, Nagy et al. (1987) conducted a study with 352 third-, fifth-, and 
seventh-grade children with varying levels of cognitive ability. Similar to 
their previous study (i.e., Nagy et al., 1985), Nagy et al. (1987) investigated 
the ability to learn unfamiliar word meanings in the context of natural read- 
ing. Contrary to the work of McKeown (1985) and others, Nagy et al. (1987) 
found no effects of ability on learning from context. In fact, they explored the 
interactions of ability and learning from context using several different abil- 



ity measures including standardized reading comprehension scores, stan- 
dardized vocabulary scores, measures of decoding skill, and facility with 
morphology, and found no significant interactions. In addition, they found 
that children across all age groups made gains in word knowledge from the 
use of context. They concluded that although it might be true that children of 
high ability are better able to derive word meaning from context on a general 
level, in normal reading of real text, as words occur over a wide range of diffi- 
culty and familiarity, there is something there for everyone to learn. “If chil- 
dren are given texts they can comprehend, they will gain some knowledge 
about the meaning of some unfamiliar words” (Nagy et ak, 1987, p. 263). In 
other words, children of all ages and abilities are able to learn words inciden- 
tally through encounters with written language. We have found this in our re- 
search examining the cognitive correlates of reading volume (e.g., 
Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). 

Although children of all ages and abilities may be able to learn words 
through context, there are certain conditions that facilitate the process of 
incidental word learning. Based on their research program, Anderson and 
Nagy (1992) provide a summary of their conclusions about the conditions 
that facilitate word learning. In general, their work has led them to the con- 
clusion that — assuming only one exposure to an unfamiliar word — the 
overall probability that a child will learn a word while reading is about 1 in 
20 (i.e., for every 20 unfamiliar words encountered, a child will learn 1 
word). Although this number may seem small, its magnitude is clear when 
one considers the amount of unfamiliar words read by the average child in a 
year’s time. For example, the average fifth grader reads approximately one 
million words of text a year and approximately 2% (i.e., 20,000) of those 
words are “unfamiliar” to the child (Anderson & Freebody, 1983; Anderson 
& Nagy, 1992). If 1 out of every 20 of those unfamiliar words is incorporated 
into the child’s lexicon, then the average fifth grader learns approximately 
1,000 words a year through reading. 

However, as mentioned, certain conditions dramatically facilitate the 
ability to derive word meanings. For example, the difficulty of the text and 
the child’s level of comprehension have a dramatic influence on the likeli- 
hood that a child will derive the meaning of an unfamiliar word. In fact, a 
child is twice as likely to learn an unfamiliar word when reading a narrative 
text that is matched to his level of comprehension, whereas it is less likely 
that a child will learn an unfamiliar word when the text is a difficult exposi- 
tion (Anderson 8c Nagy, 1992). The ease with which a word is learned from 
text is also a function of the word’s conceptual difficulty (e.g., it may be eas- 
ier to determine the meaning of the word “participate” than the word “pho- 
tosynthesis”), the informativeness of the context, the number of times the 
word is encountered, and the importance of the unknown word for compre- 



hending the surrounding context (Anderson & Nagy, 1992; Nagy & 
Herman, 1985; Sternberg, 1987; Sternberg & Powell, 1983). 


A large body of research provides overwhelming evidence that a substantial 
amount of vocabulary development occurs as a result of incidental encoun- 
ters with language. This is not to suggest, however, that direct instruction of 
vocabulary does not play an important role. There is great value in the type 
of conceptual and word-by-word instruction that should take place in class- 
rooms. For example, as pointed out by Anderson & Nagy (1992), there are 
precise words that children may need to know in order to comprehend par- 
ticular lessons or subject matter. Waiting for children to encounter the word 
in natural reading (and hoping that the word is the 1 word in 20 actually 
learned) is far less efficient than teaching the words through direct and sys- 
tematic vocabulary instruction. Moreover, the context in which unfamiliar 
words are embedded can sometimes be uninformative or even misleading, 
causing children to misinterpret word meanings (Beck et al., 1983). Alter- 
natively, direct vocabulary instruction allows the teacher to control the con- 
text in which the word or word parts are introduced, ensures the presen- 
tation of the intended definition of the word, and provides control over the 
number of times the child is exposed to the word (Beck et ah, 1983; Nagy & 
Herman, 1985). Therefore, direct instruction can provide an important 
foundation for future exposure to words in context (Beck, Perfetti, & 
McKeown, 1982; Nagy & Herman, 1985). 

The work just summarized does, however, suggest the need for a shift in 
the focus of programs of direct instruction. It indicates that it might be use- 
ful to consider programs that provide less intensive coverage of larger num- 
bers of unfamiliar words, coupled with increased opportunities to read and 
encounter words in a meaningful context (Nagy & Herman, 1985). An al- 
ternative method proposed by Anderson & Nagy (1992) would be to de- 
velop the “word consciousness” of students by instructing them in the ways 
that word parts contribute to word meanings. In this approach, children are 
encouraged to treat an unknown word as an opportunity for problem solv- 
ing. Children are taught word relationships and families in an attempt to 
increase their ability to do independent word analysis and derive the mean- 
ing of unfamiliar words in text. In other words, the natural redundancies in 
the English language serve to contribute to vocabulary growth. In this re- 
gard, a child who knows the meaning of the word “magic” would be empow- 
ered to derive the meaning of the unfamiliar words "magician” and 
“magical.” Other proposed methods of effective vocabulary instruction 
have also been informed by the research suggesting that a significant 



amount of word learning occurs incidentally through encounters with 
words in written text. That is, in order to be effective, programs of vocabu- 
lary instruction should simulate the type of word learning that occurs dur- 
ing natural reading (Stahl, 1999) and should focus on words that occur with 
substantial frequency in written language but are less commonly used in 
speech (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2003; Hiebert, chapter 1 2, this volume). 


An important distinction must be made, however, regarding the quality of 
language exposure children receive. One such distinction lies in the com- 
parison between written and oral language. For example, it has been sug- 
gested in the literature that the opportunities for incidental vocabulary 
learning that occur via exposure to language, and specifically between 
oral and written language, are essentially equivalent. Smith (1989) as- 
serted, “What they read and write may make people smarter, but so will 
any activity that engages the mind, including interesting conversation” (p. 
354). In many ways, this seems to be a reasonable proposition. However, 
an interesting (and illuminating) body of research comparing the relative 
frequencies of oral and written language suggests otherwise. These analy- 
ses demonstrate that the lexical density of oral language relative to written 
language is substantially degraded or impoverished, and indicate that 
text is a particularly effective way of expanding a child’s vocabulary com- 
pared to “interesting conversation.” 

Hayes and Ahrens ( 1 988) analyzed the statistical distribution of words in 
several different categories of oral and written language. They analyzed 
printed texts including abstracts of scientific articles, newspapers, maga- 
zines, adult books, children’s books, and preschool books as well as oral lan- 
guage that included the scripts of prime-time adult and children’s 
television shows, educational television, expert witness testimony, and col- 
lege graduates’ conversations with friends and spouses. The words used in 
these different contexts were ranked according to their frequency of occur- 
rence in the English language. The most common words are lower in num- 
ber and the most rare numbers are higher in number. For example, the 
word “the” is ranked 1, the word “it” is ranked 10, the word “know” is 
ranked 100, and the word “occurrence” is ranked 86,000. For purposes of 
comparison, the researchers considered a word with a rank lower than 
10,000 to be “rare.” By this definition, a “rare” word is one that is outside of 
the vocabulary of a fourth to sixth grader. 

In general, Hayes and Ahrens (1988) found that when compared to writ- 
ten language, speech contains far fewer rare or unique words. For example, 
the text of a child’s book uses more rare words than does any kind of oral 
language except courtroom testimony. Yet, even in the special situation of 



expert witness testimony, the rarity of words used was substantially lower 
than those found in the text of popular magazines, newspapers, or abstracts 
of scientific articles. These observable differences between oral and WTitten 
language have notable implications for vocabulary development. Namely, a 
child is far more likely to encounter a word outside of his current vocabulary 
while reading than while watching television or engaging in interesting 
conversation with a college-educated adult (Corson, 1 995; Hayes & Ahrens, 
1988). Table 3.1 provides an illustration of some of the differences ob- 
served between the various contexts. 

The differences between oral and written language are easily understood 
and explainable when one considers the different demands and character- 
istics of the two forms of communication. For example, as Hayes (1988) 
pointed out, speech and writing normally occur under different time con- 
straints. There are certain time pressures associated with natural conversa- 
tion that are eliminated when communicating via waiting. Speakers must 
respond quickly and fluently in order to maintain the flow of dialogue or 

TABLE 3.1 

Selected Statistics for Major Sources of Spoken and Written Language 

Rank of Median Words Rare Words per 1000 

I. Printed texts 

Abstracts of scientific articles 






Popular Magazines 



Adult books 



Comic books 



Children’s books 



Preschool books 



II. Television texts 

Popular prime-time adult shows 



Popular prime-time children’s shows 



Cartoon shows 



Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street 



III. Adult speech 

Expert witness testimony 



College graduates to friends, spouses 



Note. Adapted from Hayes & Ahrens (1988) in Cunningham & Stanovich ( 1998 ). 



they may be competing for “control of the floor.” As a result, speakers must 
access words very quickly. Access to words in our productive and receptive 
vocabularies is largely dependent on the word’s relative frequency. The less 
common the word, the longer it takes to retrieve the word from memory 
(Marshalek, Lohman, & Snow, 1981). Who has not searched their lexicon 
for the “right” word only to substitute a simpler or more common one to 
keep the conversation flowing? As a result, conversation relies heavily on 
the use of common words. By contrast, in writing there is far more time to 
search one’s vocabulary (or thesaurus or dictionary) for the most appropri- 
ate, precise, and communicative words. This typically results in the use of 
rare or less common words in writing. 

Baines (1996) provides a clear and compelling example of this type of 
“lexical pruning” (Stanovich, 2000) that occurs between written language 
and speech in his comparison of movie scripts and their books of origin. 
Conducting a simple word analysis of all the words found in both forms 
(script and text) reveals the general tendency to reduce the complexity of 
words used in speech. For example, in an analysis of the book To Kill a Mock- 
ingbird, Baines (1996) illustrates that while the written text of the book uses 
thirteen “U” words including up, upstairs, uncrossed, us, upon, unhitched, un- 
painted, under, use, until, undress, used, and unique, the script uses fewer, only 
seven “U” words: ugly, under, until, up, upstairs, us, and used. This general 
trend is demonstrated by Baines (1996) for numerous letters in the alpha- 
bet across multiple texts and scripts. 

Another obvious difference between oral and written language is the 
amount of contextual information available to the communicants. It is 
well known that speech is a more contextualized form of communication 
than writing. Whereas speech often relies on a variety of nonverbal and 
contextual clues, written communication must use explicit references in 
order to ensure comprehension. The result is the use of more common 
words in oral language than in written language. For example, if a child 
saw a weathervane on top of a barn during a car ride in the country, oral 
communication might lead to the following interaction: The child points 
to the object and asks, “What’s that on top of there?” The mother looks to 
where the child is pointing and responds, “That’s something farmers use 
to show the way the wind blows.” In fact, the word “weathervane” is not 
even necessary to respond to the child’s question. Alternatively, if the 
child encountered a picture of a weathervane while reading a storybook, 
the text below the picture might read, “Atop the dilapidated red barn sat 
an old-fashioned weathervane used by the farmer to determine the direc- 
tion of the wind.” The latter example includes far more explicit and de- 
scriptive words, which are necessary to direct the child’s attention to the 
object being described in text. 



Given the apparent differences in lexical richness between oral and writ- 
ten language and the resulting differences in opportunities to encounter 
new words, it is important to consider the different ways that children are 
exposed to written language. The primary sources of exposure occur via 
shared and independent reading experiences. The next section focuses on 
the role of oral reading and independent reading as mechanisms for vocab- 
ulary development and growth. 


In order for encounters with language to increase a child’s vocabulary, the 
child must be exposed to words that are outside of his or her current lexi- 
con. However, the limits of children’s reading abilities often make it diffi- 
cult to find text that is challenging enough to expand their vocabulary, yet 
does not exceed the limits of their word recognition and decoding abilities. 
As a result, novel words are commonly introduced to children via shared 
reading or “read-alouds.” As argued earlier, text provides a different layer 
of exposure that can support vocabulary growth due to its inherent aca- 
demic or decontextualized language. 

Reading aloud to children, especially preschool and kindergarten age 
children, has long been viewed as an important aspect of encouraging lan- 
guage and literacy development (Adams, 1990; Baker, Scher, & Mackler, 
1997). In fact, it has been argued that reading aloud to children is the most 
important activity for developing the knowledge that is necessary to suc- 
ceed in reading (Baker et al., 1997). Early and frequent opportunities to in- 
teract with written text and language prior to schooling are thought to aid 
in the development of skills that serve as the foundation for learning con- 
ventional reading and writing. Due to concerns over the increasingly large 
differences among children in vocabulary and reading comprehension 
abilities as they begin school, shared storybook reading has become the fo- 
cus of a large body of empirical research. Specifically, research has sought 
to answer the following questions: What aspects of shared storybook read- 
ing enhance children’s language development? Does shared storybook 
reading lead to vocabulary growth? 

The work of several different researchers has suggested that parents and 
teachers read to children in qualitatively different ways and that these dif- 
ferences may have appreciable influences on the amount of resulting lan- 
guage development (e.g., Beck & McKeown, 2001; Heath, 1983; Ninio, 
1980; Snow, 1983). Much of this research was based on the idea that active 
participation on behalf of the child is necessary for shared book reading to 
be effective. For example, Whitehust et al. (1988) investigated the effects of 



a 1 -month intervention program designed to optimize parental reading of 
picture books on the language development of children between 2 1 and 35 
months of age. The researchers divided 30 child-parent dyads into two 
groups. In the control group, the parents were informed about the merits of 
reading aloud to children and were instructed to audiotape their regular 
reading sessions with their child three or four times a week. The other 
group of parents were given the same instructions, but were also given ex- 
plicit directions regarding the manner in which they were supposed to read 
to their child. These parents participated in two 25-30 minute training ses- 
sions that instructed them on effective ways to read to their child (e.g., the 
use of open-ended questions, function/attribute questions, and questions 
that require verbal responses as opposed to pointing, as well as appropriate 
ways to respond to children’s answers). Following the intervention, children 
in both groups were assessed using standardized assessments of verbal ex- 
pressive abilities and vocabulary. Whitehurst et al. (1988) found that chil- 
dren in the experimental group scored significantly higher than children in 
the control group on measures of expressive (but not receptive) language 
ability. Furthermore, an analysis of the audio-recorded reading sessions re- 
vealed that children in the experimental group had higher mean length of 
utterance, a higher frequency of phrases, and a lower frequency of single 
words. The researchers concluded that variations in shared storybook read- 
ing can have notable effects on language development. 

Other researchers have subsequently sought to examine the specific be- 
haviors or aspects of shared story book reading that lead to vocabulary devel- 
opment. For example, Senechal & Cornell (1993) investigated whether a 
single reading of a storybook was sufficient to produce vocabulary' growth, 
and whether participation was necessary in producing that growth. They 
read a story to 80 four-year-olds and 80 five-year-olds. The passage con- 
tained 1 0 target words known to be unfamiliar to young children. Four differ- 
ent reading conditions were used, representing a continuum of levels of 
participation on behalf of the children. In some conditions the book was read 
verbatim, whereas in other groups the vocabulary words were repeated, chil- 
dren were asked questions about the story, or the new vocabulary words intro- 
duced were recast. Immediately following the reading and then 1 week later, 
the children were administered a test designed to assess their expressive and 
receptive knowledge of the target words. Results indicated that the two age 
groups were equal in their ability to recognize words immediately following 
the reading. Flowever, at the 1-week follow-up, the older children remem- 
bered more of the vocabulary words. Although the single reading appeared 
to contribute substantially to receptive vocabulary growth, it was not suffi- 
cient in enhancing expressive vocabulary. Interestingly, it was also found that 
the reading was effective in enhancing receptive vocabulary development re- 
gardless of the amount of participation required of the children. In other 



words, in contrast to Whitehurst et al. (1988), receptive vocabulary learning 
(not expressive) was robust after a single storybook reading regardless of the 
level of participation on behalf of the child. 

Senechal (1997) made an effort to reconcile the contradictory findings of 
previous work and to extend our understanding of the effects of book read- 
ing behaviors and the role of multiple versus single exposures to story- 
books. She investigated the effect of single storybook reading, repeated 
storybook reading, and questioning (repeated reading and labeling of tar- 
get items with novel words) on acquisition of expressive and receptive vo- 
cabulary in 60 children age 3 and 4. As in the earlier study by Senechal & 
Cornell (1993), stories contained 10 target words that would be unfamiliar 
to the children but represented concepts known to the children. Children 
in the single-reading condition were pretested for receptive knowledge of 
target words, read the text verbatim, and then were posttested for expres- 
sive and receptive knowledge of the target words. In the repeated-reading 
and questioning condition, the procedure consisted of two sessions. In the 
first session, children were pretested for their receptive knowledge of the 
target words, and then read the storybook twice. In the repeated-reading 
condition, the text was read verbatim, and in the questioning condition, the 
reader asked “what or where questions” after reading each of the target 
words. In the questioning condition, if the child did not include the vocabu- 
lary word in his or her response, he or she was prompted to do so or the 
reader labeled the target word. The second repeated-reading and ques- 
tioning session occurred on the following day. Children were read the story 
for a third time and then posttested for expressive and receptive vocabu- 
lary. Senechal (1997) found that listening to repeated readings of a story fa- 
cilitated children’s expressive and receptive vocabulary growth. In 
addition, she found that active participation was more helpful in the acqui- 
sition of expressive rather than receptive vocabulary. 

Taking a fine-grained approach, these studies have sought to clarify 
which dimensions of book reading are most effective in promoting vocabu- 
lary growth. It appears that although a single reading may be sufficient in 
leading to receptive vocabulary development, multiple exposures are nec- 
essary for the development of expressive vocabulary. Moreover, the results 
collectively indicate that listening may be sufficient in the development of 
receptive vocabulary, but that active participation in reading is a prerequi- 
site for the development of expressive vocabulary. 

Robbins & Ehri (1994) also helped to clarify the role of storybook read- 
ing on vocabulary development. Specifically, they sought to determine: (a) 
whether exposure to target words in the context of shared book reading 
would, in fact, improve children’s knowledge of the words over control 
words, (b) whether increasing exposure to target words would result in 
greater learning, and (c) whether children’s general vocabulary knowledge 



would be related to the gains in vocabulary resulting from storybook read- 
ing. In order to address these issues, they recruited 38 kindergarten stu- 
dents from a public elementary school. They selected nonreaders (in order 
to ensure that gains in vocabulary were attributable to hearing the words in 
a story and not reading the words in print) who were unfamiliar with the ex- 
perimental texts and scored within one standard deviation below the mean 
or two standard deviations above the mean on the standardized measure of 
vocabulary. The children were then divided into three ability groups based 
on their general vocabulary abilities and were read one of two stories con- 
taining 1 1 target words. The target words occurred one or two times in each 
story. The story was heard on two occasions and no word meanings were dis- 
cussed. Children were then given a vocabulary test assessing their knowl- 
edge of the 1 1 target words in the story they heard, as well as their 
knowledge of the 1 1 target words in the story they did not hear. Results in- 
dicated that children recognized the meanings of significantly more vocab- 
ulary words from the story that they were exposed to than the story to which 
they were not exposed. In addition, they found that gains in vocabulary 
were greater for children with larger entering vocabularies and that four 
exposures to words were necessary but not sufficient for higher rates of 
word learning. This research provided clarification regarding the specific 
manner in which words are learned through shared storybook reading and 
provided converging evidence for the general finding that book reading is 
a potent mechanism in the acquisition of vocabulary. 


The research described thus far has investigated the value of shared book 
reading (i.e., reading aloud to them) for children who were not yet capable 
of reading independently. However, there is reason to believe that even af- 
ter acquiring the ability to read independently, children still benefit from 
listening to text read aloud. For example, Elley (1989) examined the effects 
of teacher-directed storybook reading on vocabulary acquisition in 7- and 
8-year-old students. Similar to the studies previously described, children 
were read a text containing target words and were given pre and posttests of 
vocabulary knowledge. The frequency of the target word in the text varied, 
as did the redundancy in the surrounding context and the degree to which 
the word was depicted by illustrations. Whereas the conditions used in the 
study of the 7-year-olds required no participation and provided no expla- 
nation, the study of the 8-year-old children included varying levels of par- 
ticipation and explanation provided by the teacher. Elley ( 1 989) found that 
7- and 8-year-olds showed vocabulary gains of 15% after hearing a story on 
three different occasions with no required participation or teacher explana- 
tion. In addition, 8-year-olds demonstrated gains of 40% when explanation 



accompanied the story. Overall, word learning was found to be largely a 
function of word frequency, depiction of the word in illustrations, and re- 
dundancy in surrounding context. 

One potential limitation of the research described thus far is the fact that 
all studies report on the vocabulary learning that results from book reading 
in the context of controlled experiments. Although these experiments ad- 
dress some of the causal hypotheses that are put forth in the literature, they 
do not inform us as to the incidental growth of vocabulary during read- 
alouds. Senechal, LeFevre, Hudson, and Lawson (1996) attempted to ad- 
dress this concern by investigating the contribution of assessed book read- 
ing to vocabulary knowledge in a more naturalistic manner. The 
researchers based their work on the assumption that parent and child 
knowledge of storybooks and children’s authors would serve as an index of 
the frequency of shared reading. This assumption was based on the earlier 
work of other researchers demonstrating that knowledge of book titles and 
authors is highly indicative of reading volume or engagement in young chil- 
dren and adults (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990, 1991; Stanovich & 
Cunningham, 1993; Stanovich & West, 1989). Thus, Senechal et al. (1996) 
examined whether parent and child knowledge of storybooks was related to 
children’s performance on standardized measures of vocabulary. Interest- 
ingly, they found that even after controlling for children’s analytic intelli- 
gence, parental exposure to adult reading material, and parents’ level of 
education, knowledge of books (or level of print exposure) explained 
unique and independent variance in children’s performance on measures 
of receptive vocabulary. Moreover, children’s knowledge of books was pre- 
dictive of receptive and expressive vocabulary after controlling for parental 
print exposure and socioeconomic factors. In other words, convergent re- 
sults are found both across experimental studies and in more naturalistic 

The benefits of reading aloud or shared book reading have been found 
across a wide array of studies that also included special populations. For ex- 
ample, research has demonstrated positive effects of shared reading with 
children who have limited vocabularies or language delays (Crain-Thoreson, 
Dale, & Philip, 1999; Hargrave & Senechal, 2000) and among economically 
disadvantaged children (Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Wasik & Bond, 2001; 
Whitehurst, Arnold, Epstein, Angell, Smith, 8c Fischel, 1994). 

Collectively, the findings described here help to clarify the role of book 
reading behaviors and their effect on vocabulary' growth. These studies be- 
gin to provide an empirical basis for some of the commonsensical sugges- 
tions and policy that educators have promoted regarding reading aloud to 
children. Overall, the results suggest that shared book reading is an impor- 
tant and independent mechanism in the development of vocabulary in 
young children. 




As discussed, the large differences in lexical richness between speech, cou- 
pled with individual differences in exposure to literacy, are a major source 
of variation in vocabulary development. Although a portion of the variabil- 
ity in exposure to text is a result of shared book reading, as children grow 
and mature into readers, a second mechanism contributes to differential 
growth in this area. Simply put, some children’s vocabularies increase expo- 
nentially due to the fact that they read much more than others. 

Children display vast differences in their amount of independent read- 
ing. Although not a substitute for direct and explicit instruction in reading, 
independent reading increases reading ability and is a particularly potent 
mechanism of increasing language skills. We can reliably attribute some of 
the differences we observe in vocabulary development among school-age 
children to their level of reading volume. 

Stanovich (1986, 1993, 2000; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992) has em- 
phasized the dramatic differences in the amount of reading individuals 
choose to engage in and has pointed out that these differences can be ob- 
served even within a generally literate society among individuals with simi- 
lar levels of reading ability and education. As an example. Table 3.2 

TABLE 3.2 

Variation in Amount of Independent Reading 


Independent Reading Minutes Per Day 

Words Read Per Year 


































Note. Adapted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) in Cunningham & 
Stanovich, 1998. 



presents the data from a study conducted by Anderson, Wilson, and 
Fielding (1988) investigating the ways that fifth-grade students spend their 
time outside of school. Based on daily diaries that the children completed 
over a period of several months, the investigators estimated the number of 
minutes per day that children spent engaged in reading and nonreading 
activities. They found that an average child (i.e., a child whose reading ac- 
tivity placed him or her at the 50th percentile) read only 4.6 minutes per 
day; however, this is over six times as much as a child at the 20th percentile, 
who read less than 1 minute daily. In yet another example, the child at the 
80th percentile was reading 14.2 minutes daily — over 20 times as much as 
the child at the 20th percentile. Surely these dramatic differences in expo- 
sure to text must result in corresponding differences in vocabulary growth. 

Anderson et al. (1988) estimated the children’s reading rates and used 
these, in conjunction with the amount of reading in minutes per day, to ex- 
trapolate a figure for the number of words that the children at various per- 
centiles were reading in a year’s time. These figures, presented in the far 
right of Table 3.2, illustrate the enormous differences in word exposure 
that are generated by children’s differential preferences toward reading. 
For example, the average child at the 90th percentile in reading volume 
reads almost 2 'A million words per year outside of school, over 46 times 
more words than the child at the 10th percentile, who is exposed to just 
51,000 words outside of school during a year’s time. Or, to put it another 
way, the entire year’s out-of-school exposure for the child at the 10th per- 
centile amounts to just 8 days reading for the child at the 90th percentile. 
These differences, combined with the lexical richness of print, act to create 
large vocabulary differences among children. 


Although there are clear theoretical reasons to speculate that these differ- 
ences in reading volume may result in specific cognitive consequences in 
domains like vocabulary, it is necessary to demonstrate that these effects are 
genuine. In our research, we have sought empirical evidence for the specific 
facilitative effects of reading volume — effects that do not simply result from 
the higher cognitive abilities and skills of the more avid reader. Although 
there are considerable differences in the amount of reading that children 
engage in within the classroom (Allington, 1 984), it is likely that differences 
in out- of-school reading volume are an even more powerful source of 
rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer achievement patterns (Anderson et 
al., 1988; Stanovich, 1986, 2000). As a research group, we have tried to ex- 
amine the unique contribution that independent or out-of-school reading 
makes toward reading ability, aspects of verbal intelligence, and general 



knowledge about the world. In order to effectively examine the role of read- 
ing volume with respect to these cognitive skills, it was necessary to develop 
a method for assessing reading volume. Therefore, one aspect of our re- 
search program involved the development of such a measure. The measure 
of reading volume designed and pioneered by our research group 
(Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990; Stanovich & West, 1989) has some nota- 
ble advantages in investigations of this kind. 

In all, we developed two measures of adults’ reading volume and one 
measure of children’s reading volume. Briefly, the children’s measure, the 
Title Recognition Test (TRT), requires children to identify the titles of pop- 
ular children’s books from a list of titles. The list includes equal numbers of 
titles of real children’s books and foils or made-up titles. This task is easy to 
administer to large numbers of children, it does not make significant cogni- 
tive demands, and its results are reliable — it is not possible for children to 
distort their responses toward what they perceive as socially desirable an- 
swers. Because the number of wrong answers can be counted against cor- 
rected ones, it is possible to remove the effects of guessing from the results 
(see Cunningham 8c Stanovich, 1990, 1991; Stanovich & West, 1989 for a 
full description of these instruments and a discussion of the logic behind 
them). The adults’ measures, named the Author Recognition Test (ART) 
and Magazine Recognition Test (MRT), have the same task requirements 
and are described fully in Stanovich and West (1989). 

The titles appearing on the various title recognition tests were selected 
from a sample of book titles generated in pilot investigations by groups of 
children ranging in age from second grade through high school. In select- 
ing the items that appear on any one version of the TRT, an attempt was 
made to choose titles that were not prominent parts of classroom reading 
activities in these particular schools. Because we wanted the TRT to probe 
out-of-school rather than school-directed reading, an attempt was made to 
choose titles that were not used in the school curriculum. 

Although a score on the TRT is not an absolute measure of children’s 
reading volume and literacy experiences, it does provide us with an index 
of the relative differences in reading volume. This index enables us to in- 
vestigate the effects that reading volume (rather than general reading 
comprehension and word decoding ability) has on intelligence, vocabu- 
lary, spelling, and children’s general knowledge. In short, it enables us to 
ask: Does reading shape the quality of the lexicon? Does it influence vo- 
cabulary growth? 

Because it could be argued that an observed relationship between 
reading volume and vocabulary or general knowledge might be ac- 
counted for by a mutual relationship between each of the two variables 
with a third, more salient variable (e.g., general intellectual ability), our 
research in this area (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990, 1991,1997, 2003; 



Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992,1993; Stanovich & West, 1989) has re- 
lied on the use of a powerful statistical technique known as hierarchical 
multiple regression (see Stanovich and Cunningham, 2004, for a discus- 
sion of the methodological uses of this procedure). We have found that, 
even when performance is statistically equated for reading comprehen- 
sion and general ability, reading volume is still a very powerful predictor 
of vocabulary and knowledge differences. Thus, we believe that reading 
volume is not simply an indirect indicator of ability, it is a separable and 
independent source of cognitive differences. 


In several studies, we attempted to link children’s reading volume to spe- 
cific cognitive outcomes after controlling for relevant general abilities such 
as IQ. For example, in a study of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade children 
(Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991), we examined whether reading volume 
provides a unique and independent contribution to differences in vocabu- 
lary development. We employed multiple measures of vocabulary and con- 
trolled for the effects of age and intelligence. We also controlled for the 
effects of decoding, another specific ability that may be more closely linked 
to vocabulary acquisition mechanisms. There are numerous reasons to sus- 
pect that decoding skill might mediate a relationship between reading vol- 
ume and a variable like vocabulary size. High levels of decoding skill, which 
clearly contribute to greater reading volume, might provide relatively com- 
plete verbal contexts for the induction of word meanings during reading. 
Thus, reading volume and vocabulary might be spuriously linked via their 
connection with decoding ability: Good decoders read a lot and have the 
best context available for inferring new words. This spurious linkage was 
controlled by statistically controlling for decoding ability prior to investi- 
gating reading volume. But we found that even after accounting for general 
intelligence and decoding ability, reading volume contributed significantly 
and independently to vocabulary knowledge in fourth-, fifth-, and sixth- 
grade children. These findings demonstrate that reading volume, although 
clearly a consequence of reading ability, is a significant contributor to the 
development of other aspects of verbal intelligence. 

These results were replicated by additional research that utilized even 
more stringent tests of the contribution of reading volume to verbal skills 
in a study of college students (Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992). In this 
study, we removed the contributions of general intelligence and various 
aspects of reading ability including reading comprehension. Because there 
is substantial reason to believe that avid reading leads to increased read- 
ing comprehension, we statistically removed some of the variance that 



rightfully belonged to reading volume and, therefore, performed a partic- 
ularly stringent assessment of the relationship between reading volume 
and cognitive abilities. Even so, it was found that the amount of variation 
in print exposure or independent reading contributed significantly and 
substantially to multiple measures of vocabulary knowledge. We maintain 
that the conservative nature of these analyses only attests to the potency 
and strength of reading volume. 

In another study of nearly 300 college-age students, we found similar re- 
sults for the influence of reading volume on vocabulary' knowledge 
(Stanovich & Cunningham, 1993). We collected data on the students’ gen- 
eral ability (i.e., high school grade point average, performance on an intelli- 
gence test, and an SAT-type mathematics test), Nelson-Denny Reading 
Comprehension, print exposure, and general knowledge (e.g., practical 
and cultural information). In this study, we also provided evidence that 
reading volume is an independent contributor to the acquisition of domain 
knowledge among older students. After the variance associated with gen- 
eral cognitive ability and reading comprehension was partialed out, read- 
ing volume accounted for a notable portion of the variance in general 
knowledge. In fact, not only was print exposure a unique predictor of gen- 
eral knowledge, it was a more robust predictor of general knowledge than 
the student’s general cognitive ability. 

This research is particularly meaningful in consideration of recent theo- 
ries of cognitive development suggesting that domain knowledge and vo- 
cabulary are a determinant of information processing efficiency (see 
Stanovich & Cunningham, 1993). It illustrates the role that environmental 
factors such as independent reading can play in the growth of basic cogni- 
tive variables such as verbal fluency and vocabulary. Although basic cogni- 
tive abilities such as intelligence play a role in vocabulary growth and 
acquisition, these effects are mediated by the active participation in text-re- 
lated experiences such as independent reading. 

Further evidence for the merits of avid reading was provided by a study in 
which we illustrated the role that reading volume can play in the growth of vo- 
cabulary among a high-school-age population. A group of first-grade chil- 
dren who were administered a battery of reading tasks in a previous study 
(Stanovich, Cunningham, & Feeman, 1984) were followed up as eleventh 
graders. At the time of the 10-year follow-up, they were administered mea- 
sures of exposure to print, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and general 
knowledge (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1 997). First-grade reading ability was 
a strong predictor of all of the eleventh-grade outcomes and remained a sig- 
nificant predictor even when measures of cognitive ability were partialed out. 
First-grade reading ability (as well as third- and fifth-grade ability) was reli- 
ably linked to exposure to print, as assessed in the eleventh grade, even after 
eleventh-grade reading comprehension ability was partialed out, indicating 



that the rapid acquisition of reading ability might well help to develop the 
lifetime habit of reading, irrespective of the ultimate level of reading com- 
prehension ability that the individual attains. Individual differences in expo- 
sure to print were found to predict differences in the growth in reading 
comprehension ability throughout the elementary grades and thereafter. 

Hierarchical regressions analogous to those conducted on the data 
from earlier studies were also conducted on the contemporaneous data. 
In seven fixed-order, hierarchical multiple regressions, our reading vol- 
ume measure was entered into the equation after general ability. As in 
previous studies with college students (e.g., Stanovich & Cunningham, 
1992), reading volume in 1 1th grade accounted for substantial unique 
variance in both vocabulary measures (37.0% and 15.3%, p < .001 and 
p < .05, respectively). Thus, reading volume was consistently found to be 
a significant predictor of vocabulary knowledge after general ability had 
been controlled. All of the relationships in this sample of high school stu- 
dents replicated those observed in other studies of college-age students 
(e.g., Hall, Chiarello, & Edmondson, 1996; Lewellen, Goldinger, Pisoni, 
& Greene, 1993; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992, 1993). By conducting 
a longitudinal study, our analyses have provided us with a glimpse of the 
past literacy experiences of our first-grade sample and yielded some em- 
pirical clues to the cause of their subsequent divergences in verbal abili- 
ties and general knowledge. 


Although the research detailed here allowed us to conclude that reading 
has positive consequences for the development of various cognitive skills, 
it is important to point out that the relationship between these skills and 
reading volume is not a one-way, linear relationship. Instead, there is a re- 
ciprocal, bidirectional relationship between reading volume and the de- 
velopment of cognitive skills such as vocabulary and reading compre- 
hension. A child who reads abundantly develops greater reading skills, a 
larger vocabulary, and more general knowledge about the world. In re- 
turn, they have increased reading comprehension and, therefore, enjoy 
more pleasurable reading experiences and are encouraged to read even 
more. By contrast, a child who rarely reads is slower in the development of 
reading skills and is exposed to fewer new vocabulary words and less infor- 
mation about the world. As a result, the child struggles more while reading 
and comprehends less of the text. Not surprisingly, this child derives less 
enjoyment from reading experiences and is less likely to choose to read in 
the future. This trajectory was laid out by Stanovich (1986) and has now 
become the well-known phenomenon entitled the “Matthew Effects” in lit- 
eracy development. As Stanovich described, these are “educational se- 



quences in which early and efficient acquisition of reading skill yields 
faster rates of growth in reading achievement and other cognitive skills 
such as vocabulary — that is, rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effects” 
(Stanovich, 1986, p. 381; Stanovich, 2000; Walberg & Tsai, 1983). Within 
this model, independent reading and reading aloud to children may ex- 
plain part of the growing disparities we observe among students in lan- 
guage, literacy, and cognition. 

We now appreciate that early success at reading acquisition is one of the 
keys that unlocks a lifetime of reading habits. The subsequent exercise of this 
habit serves to further develop reading comprehension ability in an inter- 
locking positive feedback logic (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Juel, 1988; 
Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman, & Hemphill, 1991; Stanovich, 1986, 
1993). As the young boy struggles to readd Snowy Day and comprehend the 
meaning of the passage, he is building his lexicon through the introduction 
of new words such as “heaping” and uses of known words such as “packed it 
round and firm.” An optimistic account of our research, and of many of the 
studies described in this chapter, is that reading a lot is efficacious regard- 
less of the level of a child’s cognitive and reading ability. We do not have to 
wait for “prerequisite” abilities to be in place before encouraging independ- 
ent reading. Even the child with limited reading and comprehension skills 
will build vocabulary and cognitive structures by being encouraged to read. 


In summary, although vocabulary growth can be explained by a multiplic- 
ity of factors including general ability (Sternberg, 1987), home environ- 
ment and educational background of parents (Hart & Risley, 1 995, 1 999), 
and instruction (Beck et al., 2002), there exists an additional avenue to 
pursue that will promote vocabulary growth: reading volume. In young 
children who cannot read themselves, reading aloud can provide a level of 
lexical difficulty that extends beyond everyday conversational language. 
When the practice of reading aloud from expository and narrative text is 
consistent and coupled with word analysis and discussion between adult 
and child(ren), then we can expect vocabulary knowledge to increase. 
Moreover, these benefits persist beyond the age when children are capa- 
ble of reading independently. Thus, the practice of reading aloud to chil- 
dren of all ages in texts 2 to 3 years beyond their own reading level should 
be more widely promoted. Lexical items not typical of everyday conversa- 
tion are brought to the forefront and, if treated as a point of study, can 
promote vocabulary growth. Knowing a word’s meaningpnhr to reading it 
in text (and thus not having to guess at its meaning while reading) facili- 
tates comprehension and helps to ensure more positive and enjoyable 
reading experiences. 



Providing structured read-aloud and discussion sessions and extending 
independent reading experiences outside of school hours would help to en- 
courage vocabulary growth in children. This educational practice would 
have the benefit of also improving reading comprehension and general 
knowledge about the world. Although there is no substitute for systematic 
and explicit instruction in basic reading skills, ancillary experiences such as 
independent reading can support learning to read, as well as reading to 
learn. One of the cognitive outcomes of reading engagement and volume is 
a richer lexicon. As we search for empirically based methods for reducing 
the achievement gap and increasing our students’ vocabulary knowledge, 
the educational practice of promoting opportunities for independent, 
out-of-school reading should not be overlooked. 


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Creating Opportunities to Acquire 
New Word Meanings From Text’ 

Judith A. Scott 

University of California, Santa Cruz 

An accumulation of research indicates that many words are learned inci- 
dentally through the independent reading of text, through oral language 
discussions, and through reading aloud to children (Elley, 1989; Nagy, An- 
derson, & Herman, 1987; Penno, Wilkinson, & Moore, 2002). Even a single 
incidental encounter with a word in text can facilitate word learning (Nagy 
et al., 1987; Schwanenflugel, Stahl, & McFalls, 1997; Swanborn & de 
Glop per, 1999). However, there is also evidence that children are exposed 
differentially to infrequent words both in independent reading and in their 
homes (Hart & Risley, 1995; Stanovich, 1986). Furthermore, recognition is 
increasing of the importance of informational literacy and students’ knowl- 
edge of academic language (Duke, 2000; Hirsch, 2003). Every content area 
has a set of specific concepts and vocabulary. The National Reading Panel 
Report (NICHD, 2000) calls for an increased focus on vocabulary derived 
from content area materials. Yet, there appears to be little consensus on 
how vocabulary should be presented in informational texts and little regard 
given to factors that might facilitate students’ word learning from such texts 
(Myerson, Ford, Jones, & Ward, 1991). 

This chapter provides a review of research regarding word learning 
through text with a discussion of the implications of this research for teach- 

Tli is material is based on work partially supported by the National Science Foundation un- 
der Award No. ESI-0242733, in connection with the development of the Seeds of Sci- 
ence/Roots of Reading Program by the Graduate School of Education and Lawrence Hall of 
Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or 
recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily re- 
flect the views of the National Science Foundation. 




ers, publishers, and researchers. It then directs attention specifically to how 
this research pertains to the reading, understanding, and learning of new 
words from informational text. The intent is to spur discussion and interest 
in maximizing the odds that students, particularly those who depend on 
schools for exposure to academic language, will be able to read, under- 
stand, and learn new words from informational text. 



The process of learning new vocabulary is often perceived as a reductionist 
activity in which words are learned and tested out of context. In the process of 
studying vocabulary, researchers often decompose a coherent text to exam- 
ine a minute element of the text: its individual words. Decades of research in- 
dicate that reading comprehension requires more than knowledge of 
individual words (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Nagy 8c Scott, 2000). Reading 
comprehension involves the interplay of the reader, the text, the activity, and 
the sociocultural context of reading events (RAND Reading Study Group, 
2002). In this process, a transaction between the reader and the text must 
take place in which prior knowledge and the creation of a mental representa- 
tion of meaning play a central role (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). This does 
not mean that individual words are unimportant; indeed, words are the cen- 
tral building blocks of communication (Clark, 1993). However, in studying 
the process of vocabulary acquisition, we need to ensure that we keep the 
complexity and transactional nature of the process in mind. 

One factor that contributes to the complexity of studying word knowl- 
edge is the understanding of what it means to know a word. Knowing a word 
can range from being able to supply a definition to having a vague under- 
standing of its semantic field. Furthermore, for each known word, there are 
numerous related facets of knowledge that are not captured by a typical def- 
inition. Definitions reduce word knowledge to decontextualized features, 
abstracted from the numerous ways that a word has been used in the past 
(Landau, 1984). However, a person’s knowledge about words is expansive 
and involves interrelated connections that create networks of knowledge. 
Such networks of knowledge can be considered word schemas for words 
(Nagy & Scott, 1990). Nation (1990) identified eight separate facets of 
knowledge surrounding a word, including knowledge of a word’s spoken 
form, its written form, the way it behaves in sentences, words commonly 
found near the word, its frequency in oral and written language, its concep- 
tual meaning, how and when it is commonly used, and its association with 
other words. These different aspects of word knowledge are at least par- 
tially independent. Thus, one person may know the definition of a word but 
not its frequency or how to use it, whereas another may be able to pro- 



nounce it but unable to distinguish it from similar words. Words are also 
polysemous — they often have multiple meanings (i.e., dinner plate vs. home 
plate)-, interrelated — one’s knowledge of a given word is not independent 
from knowledge of other words (i.e., magma, lava, and volcano)-, and hetero- 
geneous — what it means to know a word depends on the kind of word being 
learned (i.e., the vs. hypotenuse; Nagy & Scott, 2000). 

Vocabulary researchers have long recognized such multiple dimen- 
sions of word knowledge. In addition, accumulated evidence indicates 
that word meanings are developed incrementally over time (Nagy & Scott, 
2000; Schwanenflugel et ah, 1997; Stahl, 2003). There appears to be an 
initial “fast mapping” of new words into general categories or associa- 
tions, but it takes multiple exposures to a word to build up enough 
knowledge to be able to use it comfortably (Clark, 1993). As a word is en- 
countered repeatedly over time, information about the word grows and it 
moves up the continuum toward “known.” Dale (1965) proposed four lev- 
els of word knowledge ranging from “I never saw it before” to “I know it.” 
More recently, Paribakht and Wesche (1999) added a fifth level: “I can use 
it in a sentence.” This word knowledge may often be subconscious. Adults 
have been found to have detectable word knowledge about words they 
claimed not to know (Durso & Shore, 1991). To complicate this further, a 
person’s continuum of word knowledge is unique. For instance, one per- 
son may know that taupe is a color word, but not be able to pick out a taupe 
swatch in a paint store. Another may know that a router is some kind of tool, 
but not know how it might be used. 

Understanding the transactional process of text comprehension, the 
complexity of word knowledge, and the incremental process of vocabulary 
acquisition has implications for understanding how one acquires informa- 
tion about words through the process of reading or hearing text. With this 
as a backdrop, I pooled information from studies of incidental learning of 
words from independent reading, studies of incidental learning of words 
from being read to, and studies on deriving word meanings from text. In 
the following review, I have organized the studies into those pertaining to 
“local context”— those having to do with factors within words and within 
texts — and those pertaining to global factors — those having to do with the 
purposes and background knowledge of readers. The purpose of this re- 
view is to identify factors that might contribute to vocabulary acquisition 
from text and to suggest generalizations that can be used to maximize op- 
portunities for students to learn new words from context. 

Local Context 

Local contexts refer to the features of words and to the context created by 
words and sentences within texts. In considering the local context, there are 



both within-word factors, such as the morphemes of a word, and the sen- 
tences and texts in which a word appears. 

Within-Word Factors. A number of features of a word can influence 
the attention that readers pay to it as well as the ease with which they re- 
member it. Among those features identified by researchers are: (a) mor- 
phology, (b) a word’s part of speech, (c) the vividness or concreteness of the 
word’s meaning, and (d) frequency of appearance in written English. 

When a person encounters a new word, its morphology is one of the main 
sources of information available to him or her. Morphemes are the smallest 
units of meaning, and “because they serve as phonological, orthographic, 
and semantic/syntactic units, they facilitate both word reading and under- 
standing of words and texts” (Carlisle, 2003, p. 292). Morphemic analysis 
involves the derivation of a word’s meaning by examining and using its 
morphological structure, such as word roots, prefixes, suffixes, and in- 
flected endings (Edwards, Font, Baumann, & Boland, 2004). 

Knowledge of morphology' plays a valuable role in word learning from 
context because of the way in which students can use knowledge of a word’s 
morphological structure to hypothesize the meaning of a new word. If one 
knows that botany relates to the study of plants, and -phobia means “fear of,” 
one might hypothesize that botanophobia means “fear of plants” (Nagy & 
Scott, 1990). More than 60% of the words students encounter have a rela- 
tively transparent morphological structure (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). Stu- 
dents can he taught to use both morphological analysis and contextual 
analysis to figure out the meanings of new words (Baumann, Edwards, Font, 
Tereshinski, Kame’enui, & Olejnik, 2002). Anglin (1993) found that stu- 
dents in all grade levels use some morphological problem solving, with rela- 
tively large increases in recognizing derived words between third and fifth 
grades. The vocabulary knowledge accounted for by derived words repre- 
sented, on average, 16% of the recognition vocabulary of first graders, in- 
creasing to almost 40% by fifth grade (Anglin, 1993). 

The ability to figure out a word’s meaning by analyzing its component 
parts has been found to be significantly related to word-reading achieve- 
ment (Carlisle, 1995, 2003; Champion, 1997), although instruction in mor- 
phological and contextual analysis does not necessarily lead to improved 
reading comprehension (Baumann et al., 2002). Many researchers call for 
more research in this area, as evidence to date suggests that morphological 
awareness is an aspect of learningwords from context that should not be ig- 
nored (Carlisle, 2003). 

A second within-word factor is a word’s part of speech. It seems intu- 
itively obvious that learning nouns would be easer than learning verbs. 
Seeing a picture of an aardvark with a brief description of its eating habits 
may give a reader enough information to know what it is (an animal) even if 



one does not have extensive background knowledge of African animals. In 
comparison, illustration of the meaning of the verb discourage seems much 
more difficult. Unfortunately, the research does not seem to support such 
an intuitively obvious conclusion. 

Instead, the ease with which one learns nouns, verbs, adjectives, or ad- 
verbs from context seems to vary across studies, is confounded with con- 
creteness of a word, and appears to depend, to a great extent, on the words 
chosen to represent each category. There seems to be no clear evidence that 
words in one category are learned more easily than words in another. In 
some studies, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs were learned more easily than 
nouns, whereas in others, nouns were learned more frequently. 

Schwanenflugel et al. (1997) found that the part-of-speech category 
positively influenced the gain scores with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs 
learned more easily than nouns. However, only some nouns in the study 
referred to distinct objects (i.e., beacon, sorceress). The others were either 
abstract nouns (i.e., vicinity, tribute) or mass nouns (i.e., venom). Robbins 
and Ehri (1994) also reported that, although there were too few instances 
to generalize, verbs and adjectives were learned more easily than nouns in 
their study. On the other hand, Elley (1989) found part of speech to be a 
significant factor in the opposite direction during a study of reading aloud 
to children. Nouns were learned more easily than other parts of speech, 
with mean gain scores of 24% versus 6%. The various findings regarding 
part of speech are consistent with Laufer’s (1997) analysis of factors that 
affect word learning in a second language. She concluded that part of 
speech has no clear effect on learning words from context (Laufer, 1990, 
1997). Overall, this factor does not seem to be highly significant when con- 
sidering vocabulary acquisition from text. The results regarding the type 
of words learned most easily may depend more on the set of words chosen 
for a study than on a general factor. 

A third feature of a word is its vividness or concreteness. There is substan- 
tial evidence that abstract words are harder to understand than words with 
concrete or vivid imagery (Schwanenflugel, 1991). In addition, 
Schwanenflugel et al. (1997) found that words’ relative concreteness posi- 
tively influenced students’ gain scores in incidental word learning, conclud- 
ing that individual characteristics of vocabulary words are more important 
than text features in determining which words are learned. However, 
Laufer (1990, 1997) claims that no such effect holds for second-language 
learners because many second-language learners have already developed 
abstract concepts in their native language, and the addition of a new label 
for a familiar concept is relatively easy. 

If the ability to picture a concept is considered as a measure of concrete- 
ness, more studies can be included in this discussion. Elley (1989) found a 
significant correlation between gain scores and the number of pictorial oc- 



currences, whereas Robbins and Ehri (1994) found no such correlation. 
Again, this may be due, at least in part, to the words being illustrated. The 
words pictured in the Elley study were not listed, although he indicated 
that “a simple count was made” of the number of times a word was pic- 
tured. Words in his study included roadster, dingy , lolling, strewn, debonair, 
scheming, summoned, spin, outsmarted, redistributed, goner, pizzazz, reform, rap- 
scallion, and startling. The words listed as illustrated in the Robbins and 
Ehri ( 1 994) study were irate, survey, toting, abode, decrepit, consume, and dis- 
card. At this point, it seems safe to say that the concreteness of words is a 
factor that needs to be taken into account in research and is worth consid- 
eration when publishers and teachers are trying to optimize opportunities 
to learn words from context. 

The fourth factor — that of frequency — is one that has not been well re- 
searched in vocabulary learning from context. When word frequency has 
been considered, the effects of substituting rare words with more common 
ones has been the focus (e.g., Marks, Doctorow, & Wittrock, 1974; Wittrock, 
Marks, 8c Doctorow, 1975). In the past few years, however, levels of word fre- 
quency have gained prominence in discussions of vocabulary acquisition. 

Several researchers (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2003; Hiebert, chapter 
12, this volume; Nation, 2001) make compelling arguments for considering 
word frequency as a factor in choosing words to be taught explicitly in vo- 
cabulary programs. Hiebert (in this volume) has used a corpus of 150,000 
words (Zeno, Ivens, Millard, & Duwuri, 1995) to identify those that occur 
10 or more times per million words of text, and she uses this criterion, in 
part, to develop zones of effective instruction. Beck et al. (2003) identify 
useful words, or Tier Two words, as those words “likely to appear frequently 
in a wide variety of texts and in the written and oral language of mature lan- 
guage users” (p. 16), and emphasize instruction on these words. Stahl and 
Stahl (2004) identify such words as “Goldilocks” words: words that are not 
too hard or too easy but just right. Although Biemiller (chapter 1 1, in this 
volume) discounts the use of printed word frequency in identifying words 
for instruction, he also expresses the importance of identifying and concen- 
trating instruction on words that are “known at 40% to 80% by median chil- 
dren at a target grade” (p. 241). 

The idea behind all of these measures is not that rare words should not 
be taught, but that it is less efficient to teach rare words than words that oc- 
cur more commonly in English when developing an overall vocabulary pro- 
gram. This is an interesting point in thinking about word meanings that 
might be gleaned from texts, although the frequency of words has not been 
considered in most studies of learning from context. 

Although other word-level factors have been studied, there appears to be 
little evidence that factors such as the length of a word or the number of syl- 
lables affect word learning from context (Laufer, 1990, 1997; Robbins & 



Ehri, 1994). Baker (1989) did find that younger readers paid more atten- 
tion to word length and number of syllables than older readers did, but her 
study focused on the evaluation of nonwords rather than learning from con- 
text. In all, word length and number of syllables appear to be less important 
in determining which words will be learned from context than other factors 
identified within this chapter. 

Word Presentation in Text. There are also factors that influence a 
word’s understanding that have to do with the word’s situation or relation- 
ship to other words in a text. Among these factors that have been identified 
in the research literature are: (a) helpfulness of the sentence and text con- 
text, (b) density of unknown words, and (c) word repetition. 

The contexts in which unknown words are presented in text are not always 
helpful and, in some cases, can mislead students into making false inferences 
about word meanings. For instance, one might think that grudgingly means 
“to like or admire” in the sentence: “Every step she takes is so perfect and 
graceful,” Ginny said grudgingly (Beck, McKeown, & Caslin, 1983, p. 178). 
Beck et al. (1983) identified a continuum of effectiveness of natural contexts 
for deriving the meanings of words and found some contexts to be so mis- 
leading that only 3% of the responses were correct. Negative learning proba- 
bilities have been attributed to misleading contexts within the stories read 
aloud to young children, and lack of contextual support hindered high 
school students who tried to derive the meaning of rare words in naturally oc- 
curring text (Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Schatz & Baldwin, 1986). 

Rating of the context’s helpfulness in naturally occurring texts had no 
significant effect in a study by Schwanenflugel et al. (1997), although it was 
significantly correlated with mean gain in Elley’s study (1989). Manipu- 
lating the text to increase word learning has had mixed results. Some stud- 
ies indicate that text revised to be more considerate, or to provide more 
useful contextual information, can produce significantly higher scores on 
measures ofword learning (Gordon, Schumm, Coffland, & Doucette, 1992; 
Konopak, 1989). In these studies, fifth-grade through high school students 
were able to define more words more accurately when sentences were 
changed to convey more complete and explicit conceptual knowledge, 
when defining information was placed in close proximity to the unknown 
word, and when the clarity of connections between unknown words and 
those surrounding them was increased. Diakidoy (1998), however, re- 
ported that increased considerateness or the informativeness of local con- 
text did not effect word meaning acquisition from context in her study of 
sixth-grade students. 

It seems plausible that students will learn more when they are given ex- 
plicit clues to an unknown word in the surrounding context rather than a 
natural, implicit context. Less skilled readers appear to have greater diffi- 



culty accessing word knowledge when the text is less supportive than more 
able readers. Among 7- and 8-year-olds, less skilled readers had particular 
difficulty inferring the meaning of novel vocabulary when the definitional 
information was removed in proximity from the word whose meaning it elu- 
cidated (Cain, Oakhill, & Elbro, 2003). 

In a secondary analysis of the data collected by Nagy et al. (1987), 
Diakidoy and Anderson (1991) concluded: 

One thing that is apparent in this study is that factors representing contex- 
tual information have contingent rather than independent effects on learn- 
ing word meanings from context. That is to say, they appear to interact with 
several other factors, and moreover, the type and nature of these interac- 
tions may depend on grade level, (p. 10) 

A meta-analysis of 20 experimental studies indicates that grade and skill 
levels impact word learning from context (Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999), 
and perhaps factors such as the considerateness or helpfulness of sentences 
surrounding words impact such a finding. 

Density of unknown words is another factor that influences the probabil- 
ity of learning a word. In the meta-analysis conducted by Swanborn and de 
Glopper (1999), text-target word ratio was the one predictor that ex- 
plained variance. A high density of unknown words in a text was found to 
obstruct incidental word learning. If the density of unknown words in a text 
is 1 word per 150 words, the probability of learning the word is reported to 
be approximately 30%. However, if the ratio is 1 to 75, the chances of learn- 
ing the word drop to 14% (Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999). 

In early studies of the effect of vocabulary density and difficulty, Ander- 
son and Freebody (1983) replaced content words with more difficult words 
and concluded that an increase in rare words leads to lower performance, 
although a large proportion of words needed to be changed in order to see 
reliable effects. One might conclude from their findings that students can 
tolerate a high percentage of rare words. 

However, a study by Hu & Nation (2000) indicates that, when English is a 
second language, the majority of adult readers were limited in their com- 
prehension of text when 5% or more of the text contained unfamiliar words. 
This is similar to the rule-of-thumb of reading educators (e.g., Betts, 1946) 
that accurate reading of 95%M00% of the words in a text indicates that the 
text is easy enough to read independently. Nation (2001) suggests that, in 
developing reading materials for English-language learners, 4% or less of 
the words should be newly introduced. 

For the factor of word repetition, research findings are quite robust. The 
repetition of a word supports students’ understanding of it, whether texts 
are read aloud to them or are read by students on their own. As McKeown, 
Beck, Omanson, and Pople (1985) conclude, “For virtually every instruc- 



tional goal, providing a moderately high number of encounters per word 
will yield better outcomes than only several encounters” (p. 534). 

When words are repeated in stories read aloud to students, several re- 
searchers have found mean gains from pre to posttest scores (Elley, 1989; 
Penno et al., 2002; Robbins & Ehri, 1994). Penno et al. (2002) found a lin- 
ear effect for three repetitions of stories, with each repetition adding to ac- 
curacy in the use of target words. Elley (1989) reported a gain score of 15% 
when the same story was read three times. A study of 5- and 6-year-old 
nonreading kindergartners indicates that their recognition vocabularies 
expanded when they heard stories at least twice with unfamiliar words re- 
peated in the stories (Robbins & Ehri, 1994). Those words repeated four 
times had a higher probability of being learned than those repeated two 
times, although some of the words repeated four times had a negative prob- 
ability. The authors suggest that hearing words four times in stories may be 
necessary but not sufficient for establishing higher rates of acquisition. 
When teacher explanations and review were added, word learning was en- 
hanced (Biemiller, 2003; Elley, 1989; Penno et al., 2002). 

When words are encountered repeatedly in stories that students read on 
their own, there is also a greater probability that those words will be 
learned. Jenkins, Stein, and Wysocki (1984) found significant effects when 
words were encountered 6 or 10 times in context, but not with only 2 expo- 
sures. McKeown et al. (1985) found that a high frequency of exposure (12) 
resulted in greater learning gains than a low frequency of exposure (4), re- 
gardless of instruction type. They also found that it took 1 2 encounters with 
a word to reliably improve reading comprehension (McKeown et al., 1985). 
Although they did not report effects of repetition, Schwanenflugel et al. 
(1997) found that fourth-grade students gathered information about both 
unknown words and partially known words while reading texts independ- 
ently, with similar gains for each. 

To summarize, several characteristics of the local context of words have 
been identified as useful factors in increasing opportunities to learn words 
from context. Morphology, concreteness, the density of unknown words, 
the helpfulness of the sentences surrounding unknown words, and word 
repetition are all factors that appear to significantly influence vocabulary 
acquisition from text. Part of speech, length of words, and number of sylla- 
bles do not appear to be significant factors by themselves. The relative fre- 
quency of a word is an interesting factor whose influence on word learning 
from context has yet to be explored. 

Global Context 

Students come to school with different types of knowledge about words, and 
some students are advantaged in their opportunities to learn words from 



context (Hart & Risley, 1995; Scott, 2004). In early grades (K— 1 ), children are 
learning how to map sounds onto letters, with the expectation that the words 
that they read will map onto the oral vocabulary that they bring to the task. 
The system of using letter-sound correspondence to decode for meaning de- 
pends on recognizing a word once it is decoded. Thus, the size of one’s oral 
vocabulary influences whether or not a word, once decoded, is known. 

By the time children enter kindergarten, a conservative estimate is that 
native speakers know 4,000 to 5,000 word families, which include each 
word’s inflected forms and regular derived forms. In addition, they know 
many compound words, proper names, and abbreviations not included in 
most estimates (Nation & Waring, 1997). Anglin (1993) estimates that 
5-year-olds know closer to 10,000 words. 

The range, however, among children in their exposure to academic or 
infrequent vocabulary is substantial. It has been estimated that, by age 4, the 
average child in an economically disadvantaged home might be exposed to 
30 million fewer total words than the average child in an economically ad- 
vantaged home (Hart & Risley, 1995, 2003). Other researchers have found 
similar gaps in word knowledge (Chall, Jacobs & Baldwin, 1990; White, 
Graves & Slater, 1990). Written text contains more complex language and 
more varied word choices than oral language, so the mismatch between 
school vocabulary and oral vocabulary can be found from the first texts en- 
countered in school (Hiebert, in press). As students progress through the 
grades, texts become more complex in discourse style and in the number of 
words that are rarely encountered in everyday, out-of-school contexts 
(Cummins, 2000). 

Students who are more skilled at reading and are more knowledgeable 
about word meanings are those most able to learn words from context. 
Swanborn and de Glopper’s (1999) meta-analysis of research studies led to 
the conclusion that the average probability of learning an unknown word 
while reading is 1 5%. Thus, for every 1 00 unknown words encountered, stu- 
dents appear to gain enough knowledge of about 15 words to enhance their 
scores on measures of word knowledge. Based on a multilevel regression 
analysis of the studies, grade and reading level were found to influence the 
probability of learning a word. Younger students showed a lower probabil- 
ity of learning words incidentally (Grade 4 probability was 8%; Grade 1 1 
probability was 33%), and lower ability readers gained less than high ability 
readers (low ability average gain was 7%; high ability average gain was 1 9%). 

Thus, as in other aspects of reading, the rich get richer and the poor get 
poorer (Stanovich, 1986). With a substantial achievement gap in reading 
comprehension (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003), it is im- 
portant to look at factors that help all students gain knowledge about words 
from texts. As reading comprehension involves the interplay of factors be- 
yond words and text (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002), we also need to 



examine global factors found to influence the opportunity to learn word 
meanings from text: (a) conceptual difficulty, (b) purpose for reading, and 
(c) importance of world knowledge. 

Conceptual Difficulty. Not all words are equal. Knowing a high-fre- 
quency or function word such as the is different from knowing the meaning 
of a word such as magma. Graves (1987) points out that words that represent 
an entirely new concept need a different type of instruction from words that 
are synonymous for a known concept. Thus, it is relatively easy to teach a 
word like superfluous, for which there exists a close synonym ( unnecessary ). 
However, when a word is a new or difficult concept, such as photosynthesis, 
conceptual knowledge must be developed. 

The idea of an associative network of knowledge is useful in thinking 
about learning new words. When people learn new word meanings, they are 
either building a new concept and creating new links (e.g photosynthesis), at- 
taching a new label to a known concept (e.g., gluing superfluous onto the 
concept of unnecessary), or expanding the domain of a label (e.g., adding a 
new meaning of break to the associative network). When the word is a new 
concept, it needs to be anchored and consolidated within the domain of 
knowledge that is being taught. The word magma would not be taught alone 
but in conjunction with knowledge about volcanoes. In the development of 
this knowledge, it is important to link what is being learned to familiar 
words and concepts. 

Research indicates that it is harder to learn a word for a new concept inci- 
dentally through context than to learn a new word for a known concept 
(Nagy, 1997; Nagy etal., 1987). In a study of incidental word learning from 
context during independent reading, conceptual difficulty was found to be 
the strongest predictor of how easily the words were learned (Nagy et al., 
1987). Words for which a new concept needed to be built (e.g., osmosis) were 
rated as conceptually difficult, whereas words that were synonyms for a 
well-known concept (e.g., pusillanimous) were rated as less conceptually 
complex. Nagy et al. (1987) found little incidental learning from context 
when words were rated as conceptually complex. 

Purpose for reading is a factor that has been shown to be critical in read- 
ing comprehension research, but only one group of researchers has looked 
at this aspect of incidental word learning. In a study of sixth-grade students, 
Swanborn and de Glopper (2002) found that reading texts for different 
purposes influences the amount of incidental word learning that occurs. 
The probability of learning a word incidentally was highest when students 
read to gain knowledge of the topic (.10) and lowest in a free reading condi- 
tion (.06). The low-ability group made no significant progress in its knowledge 
of words, regardless of the reading purpose. The average group made gains 
only when asked to learn about the topic, and the high-ability group 



learned significantly more words, with probabilities as high as .27 in both 
the free reading and the text comprehension conditions. 

As world knowledge has frequently been overlooked in studies of vocabu- 
lary learning, Nagy (1997) argues cogently for broadening the perspective on 
acquiring vocabulary knowledge to include both linguistic knowledge (i.e., 
knowledge about morphemes) and extralinguistic knowledge (i.e., world 
knowledge). Given current understanding of the reading process (Anderson & 
Pearson, 1984; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002; Ruddell & Unrau, 2004), 
it makes sense that inferring the meaning of a word from context 

involves a relationship between the situation model (the reader/listener’s 
model of meaning of the text) and the text model, as well as knowledge of the 
nature of the possible mapping between the two. These, in turn, draw on the 
learner’s world knowledge, his or her theory of the conceptual domain to 
which the word belongs and knowledge about the way in which the relevant 
part of the lexicon is organized. (Nagy, 1997, p. 83) 

Studies by Diakidoy (1993, 1998) indicate that a student’s familiarity 
with the topic of a passage has a significant effect on word learning from 
context; these studies predict more variance as a result of this world knowl- 
edge than from measures of local contextual support. Her studies indicate 
that, although the enrichment of local context may have value, it is less im- 
portant than the development of rich conceptual knowledge. She found 
that prior knowledge of the main concepts was most significant in facilitat- 
ing reading comprehension and in the ability to infer new word meanings. 
In addition, knowledge of concepts gained gradually over time had a more 
positive influence on reading comprehension and inferring word meanings 
from context than passages read immediately prior to the task. 


The complexity of learning words through text is readily apparent, and the 
factors involved are multifaceted and interrelated. As we have seen, it is un- 
likely that words that represent new knowledge and are conceptually diffi- 
cult or complex will be learned incidentally through text. Inferring the 
meaning of a word from context involves more than accessing linguistic in- 
formation about a word. It entails mapping the possible meanings for a new 
word onto an ongoing mental model of the meaning of the text (Nagy, 
1997). This construction of meaning is intimately related to the learner’s 
world knowledge. Thus, the more a student knows about a topic, the easier 
it will be to learn more about that topic from text. 

However, the probability that a word will be learned decreases as the pro- 
portion of unknown words in a text increases. It seems that a delicate bal- 



ance must be struck, in which teachers and authors must build background 
knowledge without overloading the text with unknown words. In addition, 
considerate local contexts, repetition, and the concreteness of words can 
enhance the number of words learned incidentally from text (Diakidoy, 
1993; Konopak, 1989; Schwanenflugel et ah, 1997). 

The length of the word and its part of speech have not been found to 
make a significant difference in word learning from context, although stud- 
ies are limited in this regard. The effect of frequency is interesting, as words 
that students have been exposed to in the past may be those words that are 
learned most easily through context. It does seem that those words that are 
more frequent in English and have more transparent morphology may be 
learned more easily than others, if students have the requisite background 
to take advantage of the morphology or have some previous experience 
with the words, so that knowledge is being refined and consolidated while 
students are reading the text. The purpose for reading and the genre of the 
material may also play important roles in learning through text. The next 
section looks specifically at informational texts as a genre in which word 
learning from context is particularly salient. 


The ability to read and comprehend informational texts is central to success 
in schools and in life. When students leave school, much of what they read 
will be for the purpose of gathering information. In a recent study of work- 
place literacy demands, Craig (2001) found that over 60% of workers sur- 
veyed reported that at least 30% of their workday was spent reading for 
information, equaling approximately 2 '/a hours in an 8-hour shift. 

Textbooks are the dominant form of instructional material for many ele- 
mentary schools, although they are being supplemented by trade books in 
many classrooms (Donovan & Smolkin, 2001; Freeman & Person, 1992). 
However, a large proportion of American students fail to develop adequate 
skill in reading informational texts (Chall et al., 1990; NICHD, 2000). This 
could be due, in part, to a lack of exposure to informational texts in lower 
grades. Research indicates that primary teachers tend to emphasize narra- 
tive texts over informational texts, particularly in low SES settings (Dono- 
van & Smolkin, 2001; Duke, 2000). 

Differences Between Narrative and Informational Texts 

Although there are fuzzy edges to genre distinctions (Lukens, 2003), infor- 
mational texts are generally distinguished from narrative texts by features 
such as content, purpose, and structure. Informational books emphasize 
communication of information based on documented evidence so that a 



reader may learn something. Although many authors of fictional literature 
may also hope that the reader will take away a lesson about life, fictional 
works are largely products of the authors’ imagination whose purpose is to 
entertain (Weaver & Kinstsch, 1991). Structurally, informational texts dif- 
fer from narratives in the presentation of information rather than the liter- 
ary elements of plot, setting, character, and theme that characterize fiction 
(Duke Sc Kays, 1998; Lukens, 2003). 

There is another difference between informational and narrative texts 
that is often overlooked: the type of words used in the text and how those 
words are presented. In informational texts, words are often labels for im- 
portant concepts, and each content area contains its own specialized collec- 
tion of terms. Thus, words such as tropical, ecosystem, diversity, climate, canopy, 
emergents, vegetation, torrential, oxisols, nutrients, and organisms are found on 
an introductory page of an informational Eyewitness Book about the jungle 
(Greenaway, 1994). Often, otherwords, such as because, furthermore, however, 
in conclusion, thus, and to summarize, signal structural elements in informa- 
tional texts. In addition, many of the words used in informational texts are 
defined either explicitly or implicitly within the text. In comparison, narra- 
tive texts tend to emphasize descriptive words related to characterization, 
setting, and tone. Thus, the words waterproof, hollow, spacious, comfortable, 
tunnel, preceding, asparagus, thawed, acquired, slimy, texture, and rancid appear 
on the first full page of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (O’Brien, 1971). 

Words can occur in either context, and some forms of nonfiction, such as 
biography, are written using descriptive words similar to those used in fic- 
tional accounts. In narrative texts, it is easy to skip descriptive words or to 
gain sufficient knowledge to understand the gist of a phrase without sophis- 
ticated knowledge of the nuances of a word. However, in informational text, 
conceptual knowledge is critical, and often the relationship between words 
is central to overall meaning, rather than a secondary feature of text. 

The distinction between the prevalent word types and presentation 
styles in the two text genres needs to be emphasized in discussions of vo- 
cabulary research. These differences may influence word learning from 
text. This possibility was highlighted in the recent National Reading 
Panel report (NICHD, 2000), which suggests that a large portion of vocab- 
ulary items should be derived from content learning materials as this 
would both help the reader deal with specific reading material containing 
content area information and provide the “learner with vocabulary that 
would be encountered sufficiently often to make the learning effort worth- 
while” (chap. 4, p. 26). 

However, there are concerns regarding which words to teach and how 
these words are presented in informational text. Harmon, Hedrick and Fox 
(2000) report a mismatch between words that teachers rated as central and 
words highlighted by publishers in social studies textbooks for Grades 4 



through 8. In comparing the key word selection in textbooks from seven 
different publishers, the teachers agreed with publishers’ selection only 
48% of the time. In addition, in textbooks by six of the seven publishers, 
over 45% percent of key terms appear only once or twice in each unit. 


Learning words from context is complex but, even so, factors have been 
identified that may help teachers, publishers, and authors maximize stu- 
dents’ opportunities to learn words independently from informational 
texts. The implications of these findings for each critical group in ensuring 
students’ maximal opportunities — researchers, publishers, and practitio- 
ners — are explored next. 

Implications for Research 

Recent national reports highlighted the need for more vocabulary research 
(NICHD, 2000; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002). The report of the 
RAND Reading Study Group (2002), in particular, emphasized the need for 
research on conditions that optimize learning vocabulary and that consider 
the interaction of text factors with the reader, activity, and sociocultural con- 
text. As is evident in this review, much of the research on learning vocabulary 
has limited the concept of context to local context, not taking global aspects 
such as reading purpose or world knowledge into consideration. In these 
studies, text was seen as a unitary construct. However, the field of reading re- 
search has expanded to acknowledge other important factors such as 
intertextuality and social aspects of language learning (Tierney & Pearson, 
1994). This understanding is beginning to be reflected in new studies on 
learning from context (Diakidoy, 1998; Swanborn & de Glopper, 2002) and 
should be emphasized in future research. 

One particularly distressing gap in our research knowledge concerns 
school-aged English-language learners. Most of the studies exploring sec- 
ond-language vocabulary acquisition through text involve adult learners 
(e.g., Hu & Nation, 2000; Huckin & Coady, 1999). Research is needed 
that explores the relationship between levels of knowledge about English 
and the factors identified that influence word learning from text. In their 
review of incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language, Huckin 
and Coady ( 1 999) assert that incidental learning requires a basic sight rec- 
ognition vocabulary of at least 3,000 most frequent word families in Eng- 
lish. Does this hold true for English-language learners in the primary 
grades? How do characteristics of the text, such as density of vocabulary 
load, repetition of key concepts, and the development of world knowl- 
edge, contribute and interact with English-language learners’ developing 
understanding of words in text? Implementation studies concerning best 



practices for presenting word knowledge to school-aged English-language 
learners are also important. 

The relatively new emphasis on word frequency is promising, as it may 
link strategies for learning words from context to the idea of learning words 
incrementally over time. However, the “Goldilocks” words (Stahl & Stahl, 
2004) for English-language learners may be different from the “Goldilocks” 
words for English-only students, and such differences need documentation. 
Within all studies ofvocabulary acquisition from text, the complexity of word 
knowledge and the transactional nature of learning words from context need 
to be recognized and explored further. 

Implications for Publishers 

Basals, textbooks, and tradebooks all contain informational material. In an 
analysis of the five most widely used basals in K-3 classrooms, Walsh (2003) 
concludes that none even attempt sustained building of word knowledge. I 
suggest that this needs to change. Although there is need for further re- 
search, this review points to several directions for improvement in the de- 
velopment of informational text. Research indicates that creating more 
considerate or informative contexts can raise the number of words learned 
as students read the text (Diakidoy, 1993; Konopak, 1989). In particular, 
decreasing the density of unknown words while increasing the number of 
repetitions of key concepts and the strength of contextual support for key 
concepts could enhance opportunities to learn words from informational 
texts. These improvements in local context, although not sufficient alone, 
may help ensure that, in particular, low achieving readers are given the 
maximum opportunity to learn particular words. For instance, in one text- 
book used in California, 22 words separate the phrase elliptical orbit from a 
description of a comet’s path as a long thin oval (Houghton Mifflin Sci- 
ence, 2000, p. B24). It seems that this text could be easily revised to move 
these pieces of information into proximity. 

Because the probability that a word will be learned decreases as the pro- 
portion of unknown words in a text increases, it is also important for au- 
thors to carefully consider which words are central and which are super- 
fluous in conveying the important information in a unit. For instance, al- 
though the phrase “doomed to slow destruction” to describe a comet melt- 
ing is colorful, it may hinder comprehension by increasing the density of 
unknown words (Houghton Mifflin Science, 2000, p. B24). 

In addition, publishers need to be aware of the importance of developing 
word knowledge in conjunction with world knowledge through a focus on 
morphology and the development of a global understanding of concepts. 
Most textbooks attempt to highlight key vocabulary, but the words high- 
lighted are not necessarily unknown and the selection process for the words 
seems unsystematic. For instance, egg and adult are highlighted in a section 



of the life cycle of an insect, blit cocoon is not (Houghton Mifflin Science, 
2000, p. A74). 

Implications for Practice 

In recent chapters (Scott & Nagy, 2004; Scott, 2004), Nagy and I identified 
some principles for effective vocabulary instruction: 

• Create multidimensional word schemas with students. 

• Help students build connective links in the associative network sur- 
rounding the words. 

• Create multiple opportunities to see and use concepts. 

• Help students develop subtle distinctions between related words that 
occur in the same semantic field. 

These instructional guidelines were developed with all forms of text in 
mind. They are especially useful in learning from informational text. In 
light of this review, however, additional principles can be applied to en- 
hancing word learning from informational texts: 

• Exploit the link between world knowledge and word knowledge. 
When students are being asked to learn particular content, there is likely 
to be a set of new vocabulary words used. The word meanings should be 
developed in conjunction with the content knowledge, and central, con- 
ceptually complex concepts should be taught directly through discussion 
and experience. Tierney and Pearson ( 1 994) talk about teaching with the 
text, rather than teaching from it. Words that are being taught need to 
match the important content of the unit, and teachers need to determine 
which words are central and unknown, given the background knowledge 
of their students. The need for multiple exposures to words, along with 
the development of rich conceptual knowledge, points to the extended 
use of thematic units in which words are seen in various contexts. 

• Exploit the morphology of technical and academic words. Informa- 
tional texts are rich with terms that are morphologically related. For in- 
stance, the words pollen, pollination, pollinate, and pollinated could be 
examined to show how they are related both morphologically and se- 
mantically. This provides generative knowledge that can be applied to 
other words. 

• Pay attention to useful words that are part of the academic discourse 
of the discipline. Words like analyze, hypothesize, dissect, and microscope are 
all words that are likely to be repeated in a science book. They are also 
words that may be unknown to disadvantaged students and words that 
they need to learn to succeed in academic settings. These may be consid- 



ered the “Goldilocks” words in science, words of high utility that are just 
right for building the links and bridges that students need to succeed. 

In addition, teachers should increase the amount of time dedicated to 
studying words, recognizing that learning definitions is not the same as 
developing word schemas that can enhance students’ understanding of 
the world. In a study of 23 diverse Grade 5-7 classrooms, we found that 
teachers spent less than 2% of the total school day focused on under- 
standing word meanings in content area instruction (Scott, Jamie- 
son-Noel, & Asselin, 2003). This seems quite low, and I urge teachers to 
increase the amount of time spent developing word knowledge in con- 
junction with world knowledge. In addition to a focus on learning spe- 
cific words, a general focus on word consciousness and generative 
knowledge about words would enhance opportunities for acquiring new 
word meanings from text. 

• Analyze texts for density of vocabulary load, repetition of key con- 
cepts, and helpfulness of the text. Schools and teachers help determine 
the materials that are set before children. Using the information in this 
review can help decision makers select materials that maximize opportu- 
nities to learn words from context. 


Growth in word knowledge is slow, incremental, and requires multiple expo- 
sures over time. Much of a student’s vocabulary is learned incidentally 
through multiple exposures to words in multiple contexts (Nagy & Scott, 
2000; Stahl, 2003) Through these encounters, students add to their gl owing 
network of knowledge about the word. However, not all children learn words 
from context at an equal rate, nor are all words equally learned from context. 

Many children arrive at our doorsteps with little background in the use of 
academic language or vocabulary. They depend on schools and schooling 
to become knowledgeable about the words found in an academic discourse. 
As educators, it is incumbent on us to provide the maximum opportunity 
for all students to gain access and knowledge about the academic discourse 
needed to succeed in schools. 

There are still many gaps in our research knowledge. However, it seems 
that a concerted effect on the part of publishers, authors, teachers, and re- 
searchers could improve the chances that all students, including those who 
have been marginalized by texts that are too difficult and inconsiderate, will 
learn important words. A multifaceted approach is necessary; words are 
unique, like individual students, and one type of instruction is not ade- 
quate. Acquiring both word knowledge and world knowledge is a gradual 
and cumulative process (Hirsch, 2003). Designing materials intentionally, 



teaching word knowledge in conjunction with world knowledge, and recog- 
nizing those words that are likely to be “picked up” incidentally in texts and 
those that need more active instruction are necessary steps in closing the 
language gap. 


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Four Problems 

With Teaching Word Meanings 

(And What to Do to Make Vocabulary 
an Integral Part of Instruction) 

Steven A. Stahl 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

To a large extent, the words we know and use are who we are. Words can 
define, to the outside world (and maybe even to ourselves), how smart we 
are (or think we are), what kinds of jobs we do, and what our qualifications 
for jobs might be. A person for whom camouflage or depravity or sultry falls 
easily off the lips is likely to be presumed to have a wide-ranging knowl- 
edge or at least a high-quality education. A person who can talk about pop- 
ulism, deficit spending, and interest rates is presumed to know something 
about economics or politics or both and will be listened to, at least in some 
circles. Words are notjust tokens that one might memorize to impress oth- 
ers. Instead, the words that make up one’s vocabulary are part of an inte- 
grated network of knowledge. Some of these words might be the 
“fifty-cent” words that my father used to talk about, and others are words 
that are simpler but connected. 

Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only 
implies a definition, but also implies how that word fits into the world. 
Schemas for even simple concepts such as fish may be infinitely expanding, 
from fish to specific fish, to the anatomy of fish, to broiled fish, to other sea 
creatures, to scales and gills, ad infinitum. The more we know about the con- 




cept fish, the more words we will bring into our understanding of the con- 
cept. And, depending on our interests and our backgrounds, we will bring 
different words to that understanding. A fishmonger may know more or 
fewer fish-related words than a marine biologist, but will certainly know dif- 
ferent words, some of which make up the jargon used in the business of sell- 
ing fish. The words we know define who we are. 


The word vocabulary itself can be confusing. Sometimes educators talk about 
a “sight vocabulary” or a set of the most common words in English (e.g., Fry, 
Fountoukidis, 8c Polk, 1985). It is certainly important for children to recog- 
nize instantly a set of 100 or 300 or more words in print, especially because a 
small number of words (105, according to Adams, 1990) accounts for 509f of 
the words children encounter in a typical reading passage. However, in this 
chapter, I discuss word meanings, and so I use the words vocabulary and word 
meanings synonymously. Furthermore, I discuss types of vocabularies other 
than sight vocabulary, including concept vocabularies, content area vocab- 
ularies, and so on. I believe that these different vocabularies have different 
demands and should be taught in different ways. 


One would think that the problem of teaching word meanings is a simple 
one — just determine what words need to be learned and teach them to chil- 
dren as efficiently as possible. There are, however, four problems with this 

1 . The sheer number of words that children need to learn so as to under- 
stand and use with proficiency both oral and written language. 

2. The gap in levels of word knowledge among children. 

3. The gap in levels of word knowledge begins even before children en- 
ter school. 

4. Traditional vocabulary instruction does not teach children word-learn- 
ing strategies and how to appreciate words. 

Let us take a closer look at each of the problems. 

The Sheer Number of Words to Be Learned 

Achieving thorough vocabulary knowledge is a goal that may never be 
reached, even by intelligent adults. Even though we, as educated adults, 
know thousands of words, there are always words that we see or hear that we 



do not know. A few years ago, as an example, I was reading Newsweek and 
encountered the word quotidian. This is a word that I did not know, and I was 
surprised to see it in a mass-market magazine. Since then, however, I have 
come across quotidian numerous times. 

Estimates of how many words are in the English language vary. The Ox- 
ford English Dictionary, which is the largest compilation of English 
words — modern, obsolete, and archaic — contains upward of one million 
words, with new words (such as Mcjob and JPEG) constantly being added. 
English is promiscuous in the way that it adds words and takes words from 
sources such as other languages, slang, and compounding. Of course, nei- 
ther children nor adults need to know all of these words, but they are out 
there to be learned and used. 

A more reasonable estimate for the number of words that children 
need to know is that of Nagy and Anderson (1984), who estimated that 
the number of different word families found in the books that children 
read from Grades 1 through 12 is approximately 87,000. Of course, 
many of these words appear only once and readers may not have to know 
them to understand what they read. Even so, Nagy and Anderson con- 
cluded that an average high school senior knows about 45,000 different 
words. Forty-five thousand is still a great many words to learn. If it is as- 
sumed that a child enters Grade 1 knowing roughly 6,000 different 
words, the child needs to learn 39,000 additional words or so over the 
next 12 years. That’s about 3,000 new words per year. Three thousand 
new words a year means that the child must learn roughly 1 0 new words 
each day. But although this may sound like an impossible goal to achieve, 
research suggests that the average child does learn roughly 3,000 words 
per year (White, Graves, & Slater, 1990). 

This average, however, obscures some important differences. White and 
his colleagues found a range of growth between 1 ,000 words for low-achiev- 
ing children and 5,000 for higher achieving children. This range is impor- 
tant. If one child’s vocabulary grows only a fifth as much as another’s, the 
differences between low-achieving and high-achieving children will only 
grow larger over time. 

D’Anna, Zechmiester, and Hall (1991) report even lower estimates of 
how many words children know and how many words they need to know. 
Some of these estimates are as low as 5,000 root words over the course of the 
elementary school years. This would be a more manageable number of 
words to teach. However, these root words do not include less common but 
still essential words. Take, for example, a sample from a book I recently 
read: bridal, nonchalant, taxidermy, and stamina. None of these words would 
be on a list of core root words. Children are generally intelligent and inquis- 
itive, making them naturally curious and receptive to learning new and in- 
teresting words. Thus, concentrating exclusively on root words, although 



they are certainly important, would deny children a source of pleasure in 
the “gift of words,” as Scott and Nagy (2004) refer to children’s delight in 
and metacognitive awareness of new and interesting vocabulary. 

The Gap in Word Knowledge Among Children 

If we accept that children must learn 1 0 words a day to make normal progress 
in vocabulary development, we then need to find ways to facilitate this learn- 
ing. Clearly, 10 words a day is more than can be taught directly. Typically, I 
have observed teachers directly teaching 10 to 12 words per week, but never 
that many per day, at least not successfully. Although direct teaching of spe- 
cific words is effective in improving comprehension (National Reading 
Panel, 2000; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986), the large number of words that aver- 
age children must learn cannot be acquired in any way other than from see- 
ing words in context — that is, from wide reading (Stahl, 1991). 

Children’s books contain a great many rare words — words that often 
appear only once per book or even once across several million words of 
text. One group of researchers found a higher density of less frequently 
used words in an average children’s book than in an average television 
program, or even in the conversation of two college-educated adults 
(Hayes 8c Ahrens, 1988). For children who are normally achieving read- 
ers, the appearance of rare words poses few difficulties, making the read- 
ing of children’s books a good source of their word learning. The problem 
arises with children who have reading problems. Although struggling 
readers can learn words from children’s books, their reading problems 
mean that they read fewer books and the books that they read are less chal- 
lenging. As a result, they fall further and further behind their peers in 
word learning (Stanovich, 1986). 

The widening gap in word learning between children who have reading 
problems and normally achieving children is an important result of reading 
problems. Because children with reading problems tend to have smaller vo- 
cabularies (mainly through a lack of exposure to words in challenging 
books rather than through differences in abilities), they often have diffi- 
culty understanding and participating in class discussions of reading selec- 
tions that contain challenging words. 

The Word-Knowledge Gap Begins Early 

The word-learning gap may begin before children enter school. Although 
children may have sufficient vocabulary to communicate well at home and 
in their immediate neighborhoods, the “academic” vocabulary they en- 
counter when they start school can be as unfamiliar as a foreign language 
(Stahl & Nagy, 2004). In a widely cited study, Hart and Risley (1995) found 



that children from advantaged homes (i.e., children of professionals) had 
receptive vocabularies as much as five times larger than children from wel- 
fare homes (i.e., children in families receiving Aid to Families with Depend- 
ent Children). They found that children in welfare homes had fewer words 
spoken to them, with more words spoken in imperative sentences (e.g., 
“Turn off the TV.”) and fewer in descriptive or elaborative sentences (“Look 
at the yellow daffodils starting to bloom over by the door.”). Their picture is 
of a widening gap between the well-off and the poor, a gap that threatens to 
widen over time (Hart & Risley, 1995). 

These early differences in vocabulary knowledge can influence children’s 
reading throughout the elementary years — and beyond. Dickinson and Ta- 
bors (2001) found that children’s word knowledge in preschool still had sig- 
nificant correlations with their comprehension in upper elementary school. 

In contrast, Biemiller and Slonim (2001), who examined children’s 
growth in word meanings between Grades 2 and 5, found that children in 
the bottom quartile learned more words per day (averaging 3 root words) 
than did children in the upper quartile (averaging 2.3 root words per day). 
They suggest that children in the lower quartile had more words to learn, 
so, given the same exposure to words in school, were able to learn more. 
However, as children in the lowest quartile started so far behind, they knew 
only as many word meanings by Grade 5 as typical Grade 4 students. 
Biemiller and Slonim (2001) suggest that, to close this gap, vocabulary in- 
struction should begin earlier. 

Traditional Instruction 

At issue, then, is not whether to provide instruction, but how best to do so. 
As others in this book note, vocabulary instruction traditionally has con- 
sisted of minimal instruction involving memorization of definitions, in- 
struction that was not very effective. I maintain that, instead, vocabulary 
instruction should be part of the fabric of the classroom — an integral part of 
all instruction. Beck, McKeown, & Kucan (2002) and Calderon et al. and 
Carlo et al. in this book, along with others (see, e.g., Stahl & Nagy, 2004), 
have provided valuable information about how to do this. All of these ap- 
proaches view word learning as a part of a knowledge curriculum; that is, as 
an “instructional conversation” (Saunders & Goldenberg, 1999) in which 
words are embedded, rather than taught as isolated factoids. 


Programs that make word learning part of an integrated curriculum gener- 
ally share several common characteristics: (a) frequent reading aloud to 



children, (b) the use of different methods to teach different kinds of words, 
(c) point of contact teaching, (d) extensive teaching to ensure that word 
meanings “stick,” (e) teaching complex concepts, and (f) concerted efforts 
to help children acquire an appreciation of the power of words. 

Reading Aloud to Children 

We typically view reading to children as an activity for prereaders or pri- 
mary school children. However, older as well as younger children appear to 
benefit from read-aloud activities, and older children can learn the mean- 
ings of new words as efficiently from hearing stories read to them as they 
can from reading the stories themselves (Stahl, Richek, & Vandevier, 1991). 
Reading to older children also can be used as a way of getting them inter- 
ested in a book so that they will continue reading it on their own. 

For reading aloud to be most effective, the books read should be intellec- 
tually challenging. Consider the richness of language in a book such as 
Deborah Wiles’ (2001) Freedom Summer, a book intended for students in 
Grades 3 or 4, but challenging enough to be used in the upper grades as well: 

John Henry’s skin is the color of browned butter. He smells like pine needles 
after a good rain. My skin is the color of the pale moths that dance around 
the porch light at night. John Henry says that I smell like ajust-washed sock. 
“This means war!” I shout. We churn that water into a white hurricane and 
laugh until our sides hurt. (Wiles, 2001, p. 6) 

To deny children such richness of language because they might have dif- 
ficulties recognizing words would be to do them a terrible injustice. As I said 
earlier, children’s books are “where the words are.” Reading aloud may be 
the only way for some children to experience those words. 

This said, listening to stories should never be a passive activity. 
Children should always be held responsible for what they hear; listening 
to stories should not be a time to relax. Instead, children should be 
taught how to listen for a purpose, how to discuss what they heard, to re- 
act critically to a reading, and to generate conversations about what they 
hear. I prefer that active listening be done in groups. But even if tapes 
are used with individual students (e.g., Chomsky, 1978), children still 
should be held responsible for what they hear, even if that responsibility 
is limited to retelling a story to an adult or to answering questions about a 
reading. Studies have found that having children merely listen to tapes, 
without assigning them responsibility for what is on the tapes, does not 
improve achievement (e.g., Haynes & Jenkins, 1986; Leinhardt, 
Zigmond, & Cooley, 1981). 



Different Teaching for Different Words 

One of the problems with vocabulary teaching is that it takes a great deal of 
time. One study, which admittedly attempted to provide the “Cadillac” of 
vocabulary instruction, devoted about 20 minutes to the teaching of each 
word (Beck, McKeown, & Caslin, 1983). In most classrooms, of course, 
teachers allot much less instructional time to teaching words. Even so, given 
the number of words that must be taught, vocabulary instruction can be 
time-consuming. Although it may seem to go without saying, it is critical to 
remember that not all words are the same. As Graves (2000) observed, 
words are of different types. Consider the following types of words 

• Words for which children know synonyms, such as evil, crimson, speak- 
ing, or superior; 

• Words that can be explained with definitions, examples, and context, 
such as challenge, pedal, harp, or betray, and 

• Words that represent complex concepts, such as liberty, biome, or proba- 

Fortunately, each of these different types of words can be taught differ- 
ently, thus making vocabulary teaching an easier-to-manage and less 
time-consuming task. The following sections discuss some of these different 
approaches to teaching different types of words. 

Point of Contact Teaching 

In teaching a word for which children know synonyms, the focus of the 
task is to help them relate the word to a synonym so that they can read a 
passage in which it appears. If, for example, a child seems puzzled when 
he or she tries to read the word crimson in a passage, the teacher can 
quickly say something such as “crimson means red ” and have the child 
move on. This brief bit of information may be enough to allow a child to 
understand what he or she is reading. But although such instruction may 
help the child understand a specific passage, it probably will not lead to 
overall improvement in his or her reading comprehension. One study 
found, in fact, that simply having children memorize synonyms for unfa- 
miliar words in a passage did not affect their comprehension of that pas- 
sage (for a review, see Stahl, 1998; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). Therefore, 
this instructional approach is best used with words that may be relatively 
rare ( malefactor is a good example) or are not particularly important to 
understanding a passage. 

Given the literary language of children’s books, even those intended for 
young children, this “point of contact” teaching is important. Not every 



“hard” word has to be taught. Choosing which words to teach involves 
teacher judgment, a process in which good teachers are continually engaged. 

Teachers can initiate point of contact teaching (see also, Beck et al., 
2002) either before reading a section or during reading a passage or section 
of text. Such teaching should be quick and used no more than once per 
page. If it is used more often than that, it becomes disruptive and distracts 
children from focusing on the flow of the text. Because the purpose of read- 
ing is comprehension, such disruptions and distractions should be avoided. 

Children also can initiate point of contact instruction. Self-monitoring of 
comprehension, or becoming aware that something, such as not knownng 
the meaning of a word, is preventing us from understanding what we read, 
is a metacognitive ability (Baker & Brown, 1984). Children often do not 
have this ability and skip or gloss over words that are unfamiliar to them. 
The awareness that they do not know a word, or that they need to know' a 
word to get the correct meaning from a text, is important. If they become 
confused or frustrated as they read, children can initiate a point of contact 
teaching opportunity by giving a signal so that the teacher or a peer can 
provide the word. This is minimal instruction, and possibly not really in- 
struction at all. It is, however, a way to help children get through a difficult 
text with little disruption. As with teacher-initiated teaching, it should be 
done probably no more than once a page, and it should not substitute for 
more extensive instruction of the type discussed next. 

More Extensive Teaching 

Point of contact teaching is not adequate for children to learn words in away 
that can substantially improve their comprehension or increase their vocab- 
ulary. Certainly, some of the words taught this way will “stick,” and having 
even one exposure to a word and its synonym is better than nothing. It is un- 
reasonable, however, to expect too much word learning from such brief ex- 
posure. To teach words in a meaningful manner requires instruction that is 
more extensive, although probably not as extensive as the 20 minutes per 
word discussed earlier. 

In a review of vocabulary instructional studies, Stahl and Fairbanks (1986) 
found three principles that characterized effective vocabulary instruction: 

• Effective vocabulary instruction provides both definitional and 
contextual information about a word. 

• Effective instruction requires that children engage in deep process- 
ing of each word, including generating information that ties the new 
word to already known information. 

• Effective instruction involves multiple exposures to each word. 

I briefly discuss each of these principles in turn. 



Definitional and Contextual Information. Consider the process of 
placing a call to someone you do not know well enough to call often. You 
look up the number in the phone book, walk to the phone, dial the num- 
ber, and, by the time the person you are calling answers, you have forgot- 
ten the number. You forget the number because that particular phone 
number is not meaningful to you. Rather, it is an arbitrary piece of infor- 
mation. We tend to remember meaningful information because we can in- 
tegrate it with other information, as I discuss later. So it is with the 
traditional vocabulary instruction that we received in our upper elemen- 
tary and secondary school years. We remember having to memorize lists of 
word definitions, with tests over the lists on Fridays. If the test was in the 
morning, nearly all of the words were out of our heads by lunch. Not only 
was this memorization boring to most of us, but it also did not lead to ap- 
preciable growth in our vocabularies (National Reading Panel, 2000; 
Stahl, 1998; Stahl 8c Fairbanks, 1986). Why? Because in this approach to 
instruction, definitions are treated as arbitrary pieces of information, just 
as are infrequently called phone numbers. 

A word’s “meaning” is more than just a definition. Consider the word 
swam, used in its ordinary sense as “moved through water by using one’s 
hands and feet.” The word has multiple senses, depending on the context 
in which it appears, as in: 

• Melanie swam toward the wall. 

• The five-year-old swam across the kiddy pool on her belly, kicking and 
splashing and laughing all the way. 

• Our team swam strongly, but was not able to win the meet. 

• The alligator swam through the swamp toward the girls’ dangling feet. 

• Dad slowly swam across the pool to get an iced tea from Mom. 

The first sentence evokes a fairly typical swimming action. We do not 
know much about it without any additional context. The second sentence 
creates a picture of a beginner, the third of a vigorous competition, the 
fourth of stealth, and the fifth of a leisurely crawl. Each of these is 
“swam,” but each of these is distinctively different. Context can change 
dramatically the meanings of words, even those as simple and well de- 
fined as swam. 

To learn a new word, we must not only learn how that word relates to 
other words (the definitional information), but also how the word changes 
in different contexts. Learning definitional information is more that just 
learning the definition (and definitions can be difficult to understand), but 
also learning about: 

• Synonyms. As discussed earlier, often a synonym is all children need 

to understand a new word in context. 



• Antonyms. Encouraging children to think about antonyms for a word 
requires them to identify the word’s crucial aspects. For example, the 
word chaos implies an abyss, a void, or clutter, but its antonym, order, nar- 
rows the focus to the “clutter” part of the word’s meaning. 

• Categories. Part of definitional knowledge is knowing the category 
into which a word fits. Being able to classify vehicle as a form of transpor- 
tation, accountant as a type of job, or orca as a type of whale, which in turn 
is a mammal, is an important part of building word knowledge. 

• Comparisons to other, similar words. Comparing words can be a very 
powerful means of learning new' words. Consider the word debris. This is a 
form of “trash,” but not all trash is debris. The meaning of garbage is actu- 
ally restricted to discarded organic material, such as apple cores or food 
scraps. Debris means trash that is left over from some sort of accident or 
catastrophic event, such as an automobile accident or a plane crash (and 
sometimes from a child’s playtime). 

Venn diagrams — two overlapping circles, shaded or crosshatched to 
show relationships between the words in each circle — are a convenient way 
to illustrate these comparisons. Words such as helicopter, albatross, penguin, 
warrior, and sparrow, to pick just a few examples, can be put into a set of in- 
terlocking circles. The words I listed pose some ambiguity for comparisons, 
with a possible set of “birds” or “things that fly” or “military things.” Ambi- 
guity, however, can lead to lively discussion, which, in turn, can lead to more 
word learning. 

The basic Venn diagram can be used to make a great many distinctions. 
For children in the primary grades, distinctions can be made between ani- 
mals that live in water and animals that live on land (with amphibians in the 
overlap). For older children, the diagram might be used to make a distinc- 
tion between “rebellion” and “protest,” which might be useful in explaining 
the American Revolution. One of the reasons that propelled the conflict was 
that King George viewed the colonists’ activities as rebellion against the 
Crown, whose power was to be viewed as absolute. In contrast, the colonists 
viewed their activities as protest against unjust laws. This conflict in values 
was a critical component in bringing about the revolution. 

Semantic maps are basically more elaborate Venn diagrams. To be effec- 
tive, semantic mapping should be a two-part procedure, beginning with 
brainstorming. The teacher choses a key word taken from the selection to 
be read, such as spider or cancer or map. Then students and teacher brain- 
storm words that relate to this key word. For map, they might come up with 
the words key, compass, road, scale, border, and river. Such an activity is quite 
different — and is substantially more meaningful — than the fill-in-the-blank 
format that is often used for semantic maps. Comparisons between and 
among words can be part of a discussion about a new word's meaning. 



McKeown, Beck, Omanson, and Pople (1985) have an activity called “Silly 
Questions” that can fit into most vocabulary programs. Because it is short, it 
can also fit as a “sponge activity” to fill in a space in the classroom day. Silly 
Questions involves taking two of any set of words and combining them into 
questions, such as: “Can a hermit be a villain?” “Can an actuary be a accoun- 
tant?” “Can an accountant be a hermit?” “Can a malefactor be amorous?” 
“Would a hermit be amorous?” and so on. Some questions are easily an- 
swered, others require discussion, and others require some research, but 
the activity encourages children to think about the meanings of words. 

Dictionary Definitions. Although requiring children to write dictio- 
nary definitions is likely to generate boredom rather than word learning, a 
dictionary can be a useful tool, and definitions can and should be taught. 
Definitions try to preserve the Aristotelian view of meaning. This suggests 
that words can be categorized by the category (genus) to which the word be- 
longs and how that word differs from other members of the category 
(differentiae). Thus, to cite two examples, eider is “a large sea duck of the 
northern hemisphere” (genus = duck; differentiae = large, sea, northern 
hemisphere) and hagiography is a “biography that treats its subject with un- 
due reverence” (genus = biography; differentiae = with undue reverence). 

Instruction related to dictionary definitions should be simple and direct 
and involve children in analyzing dictionary definitions in the course of vo- 
cabulary instruction. .Another way to teach definitions is to use an explana- 
tory dictionary, such as the COBUILD (Cobuild Staff, 2002) dictionary. In 
this dictionary, the definitions are presented in the form of an explanation. 
For example, the entry for fissure is, “A fissure is a deep crack in something, 
especially in rock or in the ground.” Other entries can contain sentences 
that show how the word is used, along with the explanations. For example, 
the entry for plunge is, “If something or someone plunges in a particular di- 
rection, especially into water, they fall, rush, or throw themselves in that di- 
rection. At least 50 people died when a bus plunged into a river ...He ran down the 
steps to the pool terrace and plunged in. ” Although the COBUILD includes ex- 
amples from American English, it is a British dictionary, and the usages and 
spellings do differ from those in the United States. This might confuse 
some children, so caution should be used. 

Contextual Knowledge. Just as learning to extend word meaning with 
dictionaries is critical, children also need to know how that new word fits 
into different contexts. Adeptness with word use involves examining words 
in context and, more importantly, generating context. 

• Generating sentences. Generating sentences is a useful way for chil- 
dren to learn about word meanings, but the sentences created need to 



clearly express the meaning of the targeted words. All too often, generat- 
ing sentences becomes a meaningless time filler, perceived that way by 
both children and teachers. One way that teachers can avoid this prob- 
lem is to have three or four children say sentences that contain the tar- 
geted word, then have the rest of the class rate how well the sentences 
express the word’s meaning. 

• Scenarios. Having groups of children make up scenarios that con- 
tain a word or, as this activity is time-consuming, a group of words can 
also be useful in building vocabulary. Scenarios can bring words together, 
allowing children both to put the words in context and to understand the 
relationships between words. Scenarios can be in the form of prose, such 
as stories, or plays that groups of children can act out. 

• Possible Sentences. Possible Sentences activities allow children to pre- 
dict both the meanings of the words to be learned and the content of what 
they are going to read. In Possible Sentences, children are given a set of 
10 to 12 words that have been taken from a passage they are about to 
read. Of these words, about four should be known to the children and the 
rest unknown. Children are asked to make up sentences, each containing 
two words from the list that might appear in the passage. The words can 
(and should) be reused. For a passage on insects, the list of words might 
include: antenna, butterfly, abdomen, thorax, grasshopper, wings, jointed, legs, 
spider, propulsion, feeling, ant. 

Students might come up with sentences such as: 

A grasshopper uses its legs for propulsion. (Correct) 

A spider is not an insect because it has eight legs. (Correct) 

The thorax is the part of the ant that eats. (Incorrect) 

A butterfly has pretty wings. (Correct) 

Note the emphasis on rich contexts. Having students fill in the blanks on 
a vocabulary worksheet or generate short, quick sentences both provide 
contexts to augment definitions and can be included in vocabulary instruc- 
tion for expediency, but they are not as effective for increasing word knowl- 
edge as Possible Sentence activities. 

Generating Rich Connections. The second principle of effective vo- 
cabulary instruction is that children need to generate rich connections be- 
tween the new word and already known information. This involves more 
than learning a simple association, as in the old-fashioned dictionary mem- 
orization activities of our school days. Merely comprehending the word in 
context, during wide reading alone or with point of contact teaching, leads 



to more learning, but not as much as does having students process the word 
deeply, generating connections between the new word and different con- 
texts and prior knowledge of other words. 

Consider the following scenario for the word apprentice: 

The apprentice must rise before the master, before the first rays of the sun 
come out. At that time, the apprentice needs to put on the fire, heat up a 
pitcher for hot water to make the master’s tea. Once breakfast is finished, the 
apprentice needs to prepare the tools for the morning’s work. As the master 
sits down on his bench, the apprentice sits on the side, ready to provide the 
tools that the master needs, but otherwise watches closely. The master is 
ready to teach. The apprentice is ready to learn. 

Preparing such a scenario requires that the children connect “apprentice” 
to “master,” “learn,” and “teach,” all crucial concepts. It also requires that the 
children connect the concept of “apprentice” to a more historical, rural con- 
text. Such a scenario cannot be produced without some preteaching by the 
teacher, but such preteaching would lead to rich learning and might also be a 
good prereading writing activity for a book that involves an apprenticeship. 

Discussion is a powerful way to have children generate connections be- 
tween new and known information (Stahl & Clark, 1987; Stahl &r Vancil, 
1986). Discussion makes children active thinkers, because they are trying to 
make contributions to the discussion. These connections, of course, only oc- 
cur if an individual child believes that her or his contribution will be accepted 
and valued by others. Teachers need to make special efforts to create a class- 
room community in which the contributions of all children are equally ac- 
cepted. Some guidelines for creating an environment in which this can 
happen can be found in Saunders and Goldenberg (1999). True discussion, 
in which all children can participate without intervention by the teacher, is a 
powerful tool for vocabulary learning, but considerable vocabulary learning 
also can occur in recitation, in which the teacher monitors the turn taking. 

As part of their Text Talk approach to discussing new books with young chil- 
dren, McKeown and Beck (Beck & McKeown, 2001; McKeown & Beck, 2003) 
provide a wonderful example of rich vocabulary instruction. Here is the activ- 
ity they used to teach the word absurd as part of their introduction to the story 
Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (Egan, cited in McKeown & Beck, 2003): 

absurd: In the story, when the fly told Arthur he could have three wishes if he 
didn’t kill him, Arthur said he thought that was absurd. That means Arthur 
thought it was silly to believe a fly could grant wishes. When something is ab- 
surd — it is ridiculous and hard to believe. 

If I told you that your teacher was going to stand on his/her head to teach 
you — that would be absurd. If someone told you that dogs could fly — that 
would be absurd. 



I’ll say some things, and if you think they are absurd, say: “That’s absurd!” If 
you think they are not absurd, say: “That makes sense.” 

I have a singing cow for a pet. (absurd) 

I saw a tall building that was made of green cheese, (absurd) 

Last night I watched a movie on TV. (makes sense) 

This morning I saw some birds flying around the sky. (makes sense) 

If I said let’s fly to the moon this afternoon, that would be absurd. Who can 
think of an absurd idea? (When a child answers, ask another if they think that 
was absurd, and if so, to tell the first child: “That’s absurd!”) 

Notice how the researchers provide a bridge from the example of the 
word’s use in the book to examples in different contexts. Also notice that 
this lesson should be quick-paced, probably no more than 2 minutes, with 
high participation. Children could respond chorally except to the last item. 
From this instruction, it is likely that the group would understand absurd 
fairly well in the short period of time. 

Providing Multiple Exposures to a Word’s Meaning. The third princi- 
ple of effective vocabulary learning is to provide multiple exposures to a 
word’s meaning. This does not mean mere repetition of drill of the word and 
a synonym or a definition (e.g., companion means “friend”), but seeing the 
word in different contexts — in sentences, with a definition, and with elabo- 
rated information. Repetition can be overdone, but a child probably has to 
see a word more than once to place it firmly in his or her long-term memory. 

The picture I have been painting is of vocabulary instruction in a context 
of rich instruction about texts, rather than the sterile, isolated instruction 
that we remember from our youth. This rich instruction occurs in oral dis- 
cussion and collaborative work that fully enables all children in the class to 
participate. It involves group work and the teacher providing an environ- 
ment in which equal participation can occur. 

Teaching Complex Concepts 

Even the more extensive instruction I just discussed is not enough to teach 
some words. Words such as flock, herd, confine, or slaughter, all taken from a 
Thanksgiving-related magazine article about turkeys, are relatively easy to 
define and put into various contexts. However, understanding the larger 
concept of factory farming (the point of the article) requires more than learn- 
ing a definition and coming up with a few selected contexts. This example 
seems abstract, but children encounter many complex concepts, such as eco- 
system, liberty, circulatory system, representation, and so on in their content area 



reading. These concepts cannot be neatly defined, but instead must be de- 
veloped through what Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich, and Anderson (1994) call 
“criss-crossing” the landscape. 

Take, for example, the concept of liberty. This is a fairly common con- 
cept for children in the upper elementary grades to encounter in their 
textbooks. A dictionary definition of liberty might be: “The freedom to 
think or act without being constrained by necessity or force.” In this defi- 
nition, the category to which liberty belongs is “freedom” and what differ- 
entiates it is that the freedom refers to being able to think or act without 
constraint. But is this liberty ? Obviously, our society puts constraints on 
our liberty, beginning with the constraint not to commit criminal acts 
ranging from murder to speeding, so that we can function as a society. 
When a constraint is needed to maintain a civil society and when that 
constraint violates liberty can be a useful topic for discussion, even in a 
fifth-grade class. Liberty can also be personal. Parents differ in terms of 
the rules and constraints they set for their children; these are variations 
in liberty as well. In both realms, there are nonexamples. Totalitarian 
states restrict personal and political liberties; curfews and chaperones 
restrict personal liberties. 

To understand liberty, then, one must understand what liberty is. A list 
generated as a result of a rich class discussion might look like the following: 

Category: Freedom 

What is different: To think or act without constraint 

Examples: Personal 

Going to the mall by oneself 
Hanging with friends 
Ability to choose 

Ability to vote 
Freedom of speech 
Freedom of religion 



Parents’ rales 

Not being able to talk in class 

Not being able to kill or steal 

Not being able to chose one’s leader 
Not being allowed to criticize the laws 



A class discussion that generated a list such as this would have looked at 
the concept of liberty from a variety of perspectives, not just going through 
the concept as a dictionary definition, but “criss-crossing” it from the per- 
sonal and political perspectives, looking at what liberty is and what it is not, 
understanding the boundaries of the concept. In other words, developing a 
full and rich understanding of the concept. 

The discussion needed to develop this rich understanding is more time 
consuming than the extended instruction discussed earlier and should be 
reserved only for concepts that need such instruction. This discussion 
should take place prior to reading, because it is needed to set the stage for 
unit or theme understanding. The examples just listed are generally con- 
tent area examples, but the technique can also be used for literary themes, 
or even discussions of genre ( narrative , exposition, textbook, recipe, etc.). 

One example of an activity that can used to build full and thorough un- 
derstandings of a concept is the “four-square” vocabulary approach (Eeds 
& Cockrum, 1985). This approach uses either a printed diagram or, more 
simply, a piece of paper folded so that it has four squares. Figure 5.1 illus- 
trates the use of such a diagram around a word to be learned, such as preju- 
dice. Examples of the word are written in the second box, upper right. For 
prejudice, these examples might include such things as disliking someone 
because of skin color or because they do not speak English or because of 
how they dress. Nonexamples are written in the next box, lower right. For 
prejudice, nonexamples might be such things as acceptance or reaching 
out to people who are different from oneself. Finally, in the last box, the 
definition of the word is written. The completed box has been illustrated 
with the word prejudice. 

Four-square boxes can be done as whole-class activities or by groups of 
children working together. What I like about this activity is its ease and the 
possibility of its spontaneous use to discuss a particularly gnarly concept 
that might arise during reading. The activity is flexible enough to use on 
less complex concepts, but adaptable to even fairly abstract ideas. 

Learning About Words 

English is made up of words that come from everywhere. Many words come 
from Anglo-Saxon, yes; but they also come from other languages as familiar 
as French (i chauffeur ) and as exotic as Icelandic (mukluk) or Chinese (abacus). 
Some come from the military (snafu), from the names of people (sandwich), 
or from songs (Yankee Doodle). A great many of the academic words that are 
important to school success come from Latin and Greek. Scholars in the Re- 
naissance and beyond, being trained in these “learned” languages, created 
neologisms (the word itself from the Greek, neo- [new], logos [word]) to de- 




Disliking someone 
because of their beliefs 
or appearance 

Hatred or dislike 
because a person is 


Tolerance of differences 

FIG. 5.1. Four-square diagram for the teaching the word prejudice. 

scribe the many new concepts they were discovering. Thus, our language is 
full of words that contain quad-, bio-, loq-,fed-, and so on. 

For students, word-part instruction can be truly boring, full of the 
memorization of lists and definitions. However, such instruction also can 
be an opportunity for students to engage in a thoughtful exploration of 
the roots of English. 

Teaching word parts in Grades 3-5 can help children learn a great deal 
of words. Simple prefixes and suffixes can provide a significant amount of 
vocabulary growth in those grades (Anglin, 1993). According to analyses 
conducted by White, Sowell, and Yanigihara ( 1 989), 1 1 prefixes account for 
81% of all prefixed words and six suffixes account for 80% of all suffixed 
words. Teaching children this group of high-leverage prefixes and suffixes 
ensures that students generalize their knowledge of both root words (to af- 
fixed words) and the changes in meaning indicated by affixes. This group of 
affixes from White et al. (1989) that accounts for approximately 80% of all 
affixed words is listed in Table 5.1. 

A discussion of word parts should become an integral part of word-learn- 
ing instruction. Discussions that include stories about word origins and der- 
ivations can stir interest in learning more about language — that is, build 
word consciousness. Stories that help children to see and understand how 
similarities in word spellings may show similarities in meaning, may solidify 
and expand their word knowledge. For example, the seemingly dissimilar 
words loquacious, colloquium, and elocution all come from the root word loq, 
meaning “to talk.” Knowing this connection may make it easier for children 
to remember the words. Words stories can stay with a student for a long 
time. In high school, I learned that sanguine, meaning “cheerfully optimis- 
tic,” comes from the same root as sanguinary, meaning “involving blood- 



TABLE 5.1 

Prefixes and Suffixes That Account for Approximately 80% of Affixed Words 

% of All Prefixed 

%■ of All Suffixed 


Words ( Cumulative ) 


Words ( Cumulative ) 

1. Un- (not) 


-S, -es 


2. Re- (again) 




3. In-, im-, il-, ir- (not) 




4. Dis ( 




5. En-, em- 


-Er, -or (agent) 


6. non 


-Ion, -tion, 
-ation, ition 


7. In-, im- (in) 


8. over- 


9. mis- 


10. sub- 


1 1 . pre- 


Note. Adapted from Tables 1 and 2 of White, T. G., Sowell, f, & Yanagihara, A. (1989). 
Teaching elementary students to use word-part dues. The Reading Teacher, 42(4), 302-308 with 
permission of the International Reading Association (© 1989). 

shed or death.” Both words come from the medieval theory of “humors,” 
which held that a person’s health was controlled by a series of hu- 
mors — black bile (melan-), white bile, blood, and phlegm. Thus, we have 
melancholy, bilious, sanguine and phlegmatic, words that originally described 
an overabundance of one humor over the others. 


To have an impact on children’s comprehension, vocabulary teaching 
should be rich, intensive, and full of interesting information. It needs to 
cover a great many words and cover them well. Active vocabulary instruc- 
tion should permeate a classroom, not just be a brief activity to do before 
reading a basal story. Discussion of words is discussion of knowledge of the 
world, and knowledge of the world is knowledge of who we are and where 
we stand in the world. Vocabulary instruction is not just one of several im- 
portant aspects of reading, it is a gift of words, a gift that one gives gener- 
ously to others. 




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Bringing Words to Life in Classrooms 
With English-Language Learners 

Margarita Calderon 
Johns Hopkins University 

Diane August 
August and Associates 

Robert Slavin and Daniel Duran 

Johns Hopkins University 

Nancy Madden and Alan Cheung 
Success for All Foundation 

Large and growing numbers of students in the United States come from 
homes where English is not the primary language. According to the Na- 
tional Center for Educational Statistics (2002), the number of English-lan- 
guage learners continued to increase in both absolute terms and as a 
percentage of total student enrollment in 2000-2001. An estimated 
4,584,946 English-language learners were enrolled in public schools, rep- 
resenting approximately 9.6% of the total school enrollment in 
prekindergarten through Grade 12. Since the 1990-1991 school year, the 
English-language learner population has grown approximately 105%, 
whereas the general school population has grown by only 1 2%. However, 
the schools and, more generally, the educational system have not been ade- 
quately prepared to respond to the rapidly changing student demograph- 
ics. Such conditions combine and probably interact to produce educational 
outcomes that demand attention. For example, for the 4 1 State Educational 




Agencies (SEAs) reporting on both the participation and the success of Eng- 
lish-language learners in English reading comprehension — the ultimate 
purpose of reading — only 18.7% of the students assessed scored above the 
state-established norm. 1 


A major determinant of reading comprehension for all children is vocabu- 
lary. Cunningham and Stanovich (1997) reported that vocabulary assessed 
in first grade predicted over 30% of reading comprehension variance in 
eleventh grade. Students reading in their first language have already 
learned on the order of 5,000 to 7,000 words before they begin formal read- 
ing instruction in schools (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). However, sec- 
ond-language learners typically have not already learned a large store of 
oral language vocabulary in the second language (Singer, cited in Grabe, 
1991). Even middle to high socioeconomic status and use of English in ad- 
dition to a first language (in this case Spanish) does not appear to mitigate 
lack of second-language vocabulary knowledge for English-language learn- 
ers (Umbel, Pearson, Fernandez, & Oiler, 1 992). The researchers tested the 
receptive vocabulary of Hispanic children in Miami in both English and 
Spanish with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and its Spanish 
equivalent, the Test de Vocabularioen Imagenes Peabody (TVIP). The 105 
bilingual first graders, of middle to high socioeconomic status relative to 
national norms, were divided according to the language spoken in their 
homes (English and Spanish or Spanish only). Both groups performed near 
the mean of 100 in Spanish, but the English and Spanish group scored 
more than one standard deviation higher in English than the Spanish-only 
group. However, both groups were significantly below the mean of the 
norming sample in English, even when the socioeconomic status of the 
English-language learners was higher than that of the norming sample. 
Poor vocabulary is a serious issue for English-language learners. Although 
skilled readers can tolerate a small proportion of unknown words in a text 
without disruption of comprehension, comprehension is disrupted if the 
proportion of unknown words is too high. A series of studies underscores 
that vocabulary learning results in comprehension gains and improvement 
on semantic tasks. For example, McKeown, Beck, Omanson, and Perfetti 
(1983) found that vocabulary instruction had a strong relation to text com- 
prehension in fourth graders. 

'Currently available state data do not offer a clear picture of English-language learners’ 
reading achievement. First, assessment tools and testing policies differ from state to state and 
even within districts within a state. Furthermore, data are gathered for different grade levels. 



Findings from the National Reading Panel (2000) indicate that various 
methods improve students’ vocabulary, depending on the age of the chil- 
dren. First, computer use bolsters vocabulary learning when compared with 
traditional methods (Davidson, Elcock, & Noyes, 1996). The National 
Reading Panel also cited the keyword method as having a substantial re- 
search base. Although it may significantly augment recall, the method 
works best with particular kinds of words and requires substantia] teacher 
effort (Kamil 8c Hiebert, chapter 1, this volume). Other methods have also 
proven successful. Vocabulary can be acquired through incidental exposure 
(Schwanenflugel, Stahl, & McFalls, 1997) or reinforced through stu- 
dent-initiated talk and active participation during storybook reading 
(Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Drevno, Kimball, Possi, Heward, Gardner, & 
Barbetta, 1 994; Senechal, 1 997). A focus on high-frequency words and mul- 
tiple, repeated exposures to vocabulary is important, as is the application of 
words to multiple contexts (Daniels, 1994; Leung, 1992; Senechal, 1997). 
Some studies (Brett, Rothlein, & Hurley, 1996; Carney, Anderson, 
Blackburn, & Blessing, 1984; Wixson, 1986) suggest that preinstruction of 
vocabulary facilitates vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. Others 
advocate restructuring materials or procedures (e.g., substituting easy for 
hard words in a passage, teaching what components make a good defini- 
tion, selecting relevant words for vocabulary learning, conducting 
group-assisted reading in dyads rather than unassisted groups) in order to 
bolster comprehension (Scott & Nagy, 1997). Stahl (1983) reported that a 
mix of contextual and definitional approaches work better than either ap- 
proach alone, whereas Margosein, Pascarella, & Pflaum, 1982) found spe- 
cific gains from a single approach (semantic mapping over context-rich or 
target-word treatment). Several other researchers have reported that direct 
instruction in learning word meanings is helpful (Tomesen & Aarnoutse, 
1998; White, Graves, 8c Slater, 1990). 

Despite the importance of vocabulary to comprehension for English-lan- 
guage learners, there have been only four experimental studies conducted 
since 1980 examining the effectiveness of interventions designed to build 
vocabulary among language minority students learning English as a soci- 
etal language. The findings indicate that research-based strategies used 
with first-language learners (National Reading Panel, 2000) are effective 
with second-language learners, although the strategies must be adapted to 
the strengths and needs of second language learners. In one study, Carlo et 
al. (2004) developed, implemented, and assessed an intervention designed 
to enrich the vocabulary knowledge and bolster the reading comprehen- 
sion of Spanish-speaking, fifth-grade English-language learners and their 
English-only peers. The participants were 254 bilingual (Spanish-English) 
and monolingual English-speaking children from nine fifth-grade class- 
rooms in four schools in California, Virginia, and Massachusetts. The study 



employed a quasiexperimental design in which classrooms at each site were 
randomly assigned to the treatment and comparison conditions. This pro- 
cedure resulted in the assignment of three classes to the treatment while six 
classrooms served as comparisons. 

Students in the treatment groups participated in 15 weeks of instruction, 
with an emphasis on 10 to 12 words per week. Vocabulary instruction lasted 
for 30 to 45 minutes per day for 4 days per week, with one additional day per 
week devoted to review. The vocabulary was presented thematically and in- 
cluded homework assignments and a weekly test. Activities were designed 
to build depth of word meaning and provide students with strategies to ac- 
quire new words. In addition, activities built on students’ first-language 
knowledge by teaching students to take advantage of cognate knowledge 
and providing Spanish previews of the text students were to read in English. 
Students in the comparison classrooms did not receive special instruction 
other than that normally included in the school curriculum, although their 
teachers did participate as members of school teams in professional devel- 
opment activities focused on vocabulary teaching 2 years prior to the intro- 
duction of the interv ention. 

Students in the intervention and comparison classrooms were tested in 
the fall and the spring of the academic year on a series of tests designed to 
reflect the skills the curriculum taught. The assessments measured breadth 
of vocabulary (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised, or PPVT-R) as 
well as the students’ ability to form deeper representations of word knowl- 
edge (word association test), to master the vocabulary words that had been 
taught (mastery test), to understand the multiple meanings of words 
(polysemy production test), to analyze the morphology of words (morphol- 
ogy test), and to comprehend text (cloze). The PPVT-R was used as a 
covariate to reduce effects associated with diff erences in initial English pro- 
ficiency and with site differences in populations being served. The mastery, 
word association, polysemy, and cloze tests all showed the same general pat- 
tern of results, demonstrating the impact of the intervention: The interven- 
tion group showed greater gain in the course of the school year than the 
comparison group. 

A second experimental vocabulary study focused on presenting words 
to first-grade Spanish-dominant students (Vaughn-Shavuo, 1990). In this 
doctoral dissertation, students were randomly assigned to two groups. 
Both groups received vocabulary instruction during a 30-minute daily 
ESL class. One group worked on learning words that were presented in 
random sentence contexts, while the other worked on words that were em- 
bedded in meaningful narratives about which the students dictated sen- 
tences. These students were also shown picture cards that illustrated the 
word meanings. During 3 weeks of instruction, 31 words were presented to 
each group, and by the end of the training, the experimental group 



showed better ability to use the English vocabulary than did the control 
group (2 1 words learned versus 9). 

Perez (1981) reported on a third vocabulary study targeting 75 Mexi- 
can-Anierican language minority third graders. The children received 3 
months of oral instruction for 20 minutes each day, focusing on compound 
words, synonyms, antonyms, and multiple meanings. The experimental 
group children showed significant improvement over a control group on 
the Prescriptive Reading Inventory. 

In a fourth study, a method called suggestopedia was used with Span- 
ish-language background third graders (Ramirez, 1986). Suggestopedia is 
an alternative language learning method developed by Dr. Georgi Lozarov 
in the 1970s. Lozarov believed the use of music, comfortable chairs, and soft 
lighting in the classroom created levels of relaxed concentration that en- 
abled students to better learn and retain new material. In the Raimirez 
study, the suggestopedia procedure was applied with 1 0 new words per day. 
These 10 new words were presented through scripted lessons that made use 
of recordings, filmstrips, and short tests of each lesson. Students in both the 
control group and the experimental group were presented with 40 words 
over a 4-day period in class sessions that were 40 minutes in duration. This 
teaching was delivered to three groups of 10 students each (one control 
group, and two experimental groups — one that received suggestopedia, 
and one that received this method without imagery training). The groups 
were compared on the vocabulary section of the Metropolitan Achievement 
Tests (MAT) and the Primary Acquisition of Languages Oral Dominance 
measure and found to be equivalent. The two experimental groups per- 
formed significantly better than the control group; moreover, the suggest- 
opedia approach was found to be most successful with the students with the 
highest levels of English proficiency. 

The intervention described in this chapter builds on previous work on 
vocabulary conducted with English-only students as well as English-lan- 
guage learners. The intervention was designed for use with English lan- 
guage learners who have just transitioned from native language (Spanish) 
literacy instruction to English literacy instruction. It is estimated that 57% 
of English-language learners are in some form of transitional bilingual pro- 
gram in which they typically receive literacy and content area instruction in 
their first language (LI) while learning to speak and comprehend English 
as a second language (L2; August & Hakuta, 1997). Once students have ac- 
quired a certain level of LI literacy and adequate listening and speaking 
skills in English, they make the “transition” to English. That is, they are im- 
mersed in English-only mainstream classrooms where literacy and other ac- 
ademic subjects are taught in English. The transition into the mainstream 
usually takes place during the second, third, fourth, or even fifth grade, de- 
pending on school, district, or state policy. However, because of the No 



Child Left Behind legislation, more schools are leaning toward a second- or 
third-grade transition. 

To date, only two empirical studies (Calderon, Hertz-Lazarowitz, & 
Slavin, 1998; Saunders & Goldenberg, 2001) have provided experimental 
evidence on the best way to instruct children during the critical period of 
transition. Both interventions reported in these studies focused on devel- 
oping vocabulary to help students with the sudden immersion into Eng- 
lish-content reading. The program developed and investigated by 
Saunders and Goldenberg (2001) is a 3-year transition program imple- 
mented in Grades 3-5. The 3-year design presumes that students receive a 
coherent program of language arts instruction from Grades 3-5, from pri- 
mary language through transitional language arts. Research results indi- 
cate that this transition program does a better job of cultivating literacy 
than the 3- to 6-month transition program students typically receive. Pro- 
ject students scored significantly higher than nonproject students in read- 
ing across Grades 3-5 on both standardized and performance-based 
assessments, regardless of language. At Grade 5, when most students took 
English standardized tests and all students took English performance as- 
sessments, project students scored significantly higher than nonproject stu- 
dents on every measure taken. 

In the other study, Calderon, Hertz-Lazarowitz, and Slavin ( 1 998) inves- 
tigated the Bilingual Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition 
(BCIRC) program. The study was conducted in three experimental ( n = 
250) and four control (n = 250) schools in El Paso, Texas. Students were 
pretested with the district’s language proficiency test and posttested after 
second and third grades in English reading and writing with the Texas As- 
sessment of Academic Skills and the Norm-Referenced Assessment Pro- 
gram for Texas standardized tests. By the end of third grade, BCIRC 
students scored almost one standard deviation higher than comparison stu- 
dents in reading (ES = +0.87). In this study, vocabulary was taught in the 
context of reading, first with simple sequenced readers, then building up to 
grade-level readers. Redundancy of vocabulary was achieved through 
prereading, during reading, and postreading activities as students applied 
the new words orally and in written form. 

The purpose of the present study was to evaluate an intervention for chil- 
dren transitioning from Spanish to English reading that was based on cur- 
rent understandings of how to build vocabulary, decoding skills, and 
comprehension in a second language. The intervention included coopera- 
tive learning, extensive teaching of vocabulary strategies, direct teaching of 
comprehension skills, many opportunities for independent reading, and so 
on. The Success for All reading program (SFA; Slavin & Madden, 2001) 
provided the base for the transition model but incorporated vocabulary en- 
hancement strategies derived from the work of several researchers. This 



study is important in that it provides a first evaluation of a promising strat- 
egy to enhance Spanish-to-English transition. 



The year-long study employed a matched control design. A total of eight 
experimental and eight control classrooms in Texas schools participated in 
the study. All experimental classrooms were in four SFA schools in two dis- 
tricts. The experimental students participated in the program described 
here, designed to facilitate transition from Spanish into English reading. 
The control students participated in the two districts’ regular programs for 
Spanish-to-English transition, which consist of a basal series and instruc- 
tional approaches called readers’ workshop and writers’ workshop. Both 
programs transition students at the same grade levels and devote one year 
to introducing reading and writing in English. The principal goal of both 
SFA and the districts’ transition programs is to have all English-language 
learners ready to meet the districts’ criteria for moving into mainstream 
English classes at the end of the school year. 

The experimental and control schools were matched on the percentage 
of English-language learners and the percentage of free and reduced lunch 
eligibility (see Table 6.1). Participants in the study were predominately 
socioeconomically disadvantaged, as an average of 90% received full or re- 
duced lunch subsidies. All schools enrolled a high percentage of Eng- 
lish-language learners, ranging from a low of 47% to a high of 76%, with an 

TABLE 6.1 

Characteristics of Participating Schools 

% English Language 

% Free and Reduced Lunch 

Experimental School A 



Control School B 



Experimental School C 



Control School D 



Experimental School E 



Control School F 



Experimental School G 



Control School H 





average of 60%. Pretests were also given to ensure the comparability of the 
treatment and control groups and were used as covariates in the main anal- 
yses to adjust for any initial difference between the two groups. 


Subjects were 293 Spanish-dominant third-grade students enrolled in eight 
elementary schools in two school districts in El Paso, Texas. The children 
had been identified by their schools as “ready to begin their transition into 
English.” All participants were pretested and found to be limited English 
proficient and reading at a second-grade level in Spanish. Both the experi- 
mental and control students had been instructed in Spanish for reading, 
language arts, and content areas since kindergarten. 

Overview of the Intervention 

The transition intervention was implemented for a period of 22 to 25 weeks. 
The implementation began at the end of October 2002 (in one case at the be- 
ginning of December) and terminated at the end of March 2003, when Texas 
Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) testing preparation began. 

The experimental intervention was an adaptation of the Success for All 
reading program. In this approach, students worked in four-member learn- 
ing teams, using a series of minibooks containing phonetically decodable 
texts, children’s literature, and ancillary student and teacher materials 
(Slavin & Madden, 2001). In fast-paced 90-minute lessons, students learned 
letter sounds, sound blending, sight words, vocabulary, and comprehension 
skills in English. Because students could already read in Spanish, the instruc- 
tional pace for teaching English reading was rapid, spending little time on 
skills common to Spanish and English but stopping to focus on areas in which 
the languages differ. A major focus was on vocabulary. 

Vocabulary activities were designed to build multiple literacy skills in 
English, including phonological awareness, pronunciation, Spanish-Eng- 
lish contrasting sounds, cognate meaning awareness, word reading, decod- 
ing, fluency, grammar, reading comprehension, and writing. Vocabulary 
was taught in two contexts: through the decodable books and through chil- 
dren’s literature. To build word knowledge through decodable texts, DVDs 
were used to preview the vocabulary. The DVDs contained skits that illus- 
trated key vocabulary appearing in the decodable books. However, 30 min- 
utes per day of oral language activities revolving around grade-level 
children’s literature provided the primary method for building children’s 
vocabulary knowledge. Teachers pretaught vocabulary, developed vocabu- 
lary through “text talk,” and reinforced vocabulary through oral language 
activities occurring after the story had been read. Students listened to and 



discussed children’s literature (50 books during the year) and worked on 
daily oral language activities to build word knowledge for key words ap- 
pearing in the children’s literature. Cynthia Rylant’s (1993) The Relatives 
Came and John Burningham’s (2001 )John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The 
Boy Who Was Always Late illustrate the kind of literature that was used in the 
program. To illustrate the nature of instruction in this chapter, we have 
chosen Burningham’s text to elaborate on the activities of the program. Ex- 
cept for a final set of grammar activities, the complete lesson with which 
teachers were provided to teach this text is provided in the appendix. 

Selecting Words to Teach and the Methods to Teach Them. The selec- 
tion of words to preteach was based on research by Beck and colleagues 
(Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002), as well as on the work of the Vocabulary 
Improvement Project (Carlo et al., 2004) and the BCIRC study (Calderon et 
al., 1998). Beck and colleagues have developed a systematic method of se- 
lecting vocabulary to teach to students. Words are grouped into three tiers, 
and words in Tier Two are those targeted for instruction. Tier One words 
are words English-speaking students already know; Tier Three words are 
words students are unlikely to know, but that are not frequently used across 
a variety of domains. 

We borrowed the tiers concept from Beck and colleagues as a means of 
categorizing words. However, with English-language learners, we have 
found it necessary to modify the approach. We take it for granted that na- 
tive English speakers know most Tier One words, but this is not the case 
for English-language learners. Many Tier One words that are unknown 
to English-language learners may be key to the comprehension of a pas- 
sage. Furthermore, English-language learners may not have sufficient 
background to use context to figure out the words that Beck et al. have 
designated as Tier Three Consequently, we developed a set of selection 
criteria for choosing words. The four criteria include: (a) the nature of 
the word (i.e., is it concrete? Can it be demonstrated?); (b) cognate sta- 
tus; (c) depth of meaning (i.e., the number and richness of the way a word 
is used); and (d) utility. 

In identifying critical Tier One words, we recognize that English-lan- 
guage learners typically know the concept in their primary language. They 
simply may not know the label in English. For example, a Tier One word 
might be butterfly. English-language learners may not know this word, but it 
can be easily taught by pointing to a picture of a butterfly during text discus- 
sion. Another Tier One word might be bug. Words like bug (insect) or march 
(move like a soldier) may be easily instructed during text discussion by 
pointing to a picture of a bug or marching in place, but because the words 
are polysemous, they merit further instruction. This can be accomplished in 
oral language activities that follow the text discussion. 



There are some Tier One words that cannot be demonstrated and are 
not polysemous but that students will need to know (e.g., uncle). A simple 
explanation of the word’s meaning during the story reading will suffice, or 
if the teacher and students are bilingual, a translation is sufficient. Idioms 
and everyday expressions (e.g., “make up your mind”; “let’s hit the 
books”; “once upon a time”) are also composed of Tier One words, and 
teachers will need to explain their meanings to students. Other Tier One 
words are cognates (e.g., family /familia; preparation/preparacion). The cog- 
nates in this category consist of words that are high-frequency words in 
Spanish and English; they do not require substantial instruction because 
students know the word meanings in Spanish. In this case, the teacher 
merely states the English cognate and students provide the Spanish cog- 
nate or the teacher provides the English cognate and students provide 
both the English word and Spanish cognate. False cognates also need to be 
pointed out by the teacher and the correct translation given. For example, 
assist is usually translated as asistir, but the correct translation is atender, 
and attend means asistir; other examples of words that are false cognates 
are: rope/ropa; embarrassed/ embarasada. 

Tier Two words include: (a) words that have importance and utility (i.e., 
they are characteristic of mature language users and appear frequently 
across a variety of domains); (b) words that have instructional potential (i.e., 
they can be worked with in a variety of ways so that students can build rich 
representations of them and their connections to other words and con- 
cepts); and (c) words that provide precision and specificity in describing 
ideas for which students already have a basic conceptual understanding. 
These words often appear in grade-level texts. Tier Two words that are de- 
monstrable may not need elaborate discussion. In addition, many Tier Two 
words are cognates (in this tier they are often high-frequency words in 
Spanish and low-frequency words in English). Children whose first lan- 
guage shares cognates with English will have a head start with these words 
(e.g., coincidence! coincidencia, industrious/industrioso, fortunate /afortunado) be- 
cause they will know both the concept and an approximation of the label in 
English. (For children whose first language is not Latin-based and does not 
share cognates with English, such a procedure needs to be adapted.) The 
Tier Two words that should be targeted for preteaching include words that 
cannot be demonstrated and are not cognates. 

Furthermore, although Beck et al. (2003) focus on Tier Two words and 
not Tier Three words, many English-language learners may not have the 
background to use context to figure out the rare, context-bound words of 
Tier Three. Tier Three words that are not demonstrable or cognates should 
be translated or briefly explained in the first language but not elaborated in 
English. They are low-frequency words and are not encountered across a 
multitude of domains. 



Preteaching Vocabulary. For this intervention, the project staff se- 
lected the vocabulary for each of the 50 children’s literature books that were 
used in the teacher read-alouds throughout the program. The criteria that 
were developed in the previous section were used to select words. 

Activities were then developed for each of the chosen words by the pro- 
ject staff. The basis for these activities was the vocabulary process developed 
by Beck and colleagues (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). Second-lan- 
guage strategies were integrated with the basic preteaching process to 
achieve five steps. 

First, the teacher says a target word in both English and Spanish; second, 
teachers provide a definition of the word based on its use in the story; third, 
they provide another example of the word by using it in a sentence whose 
context clarifies the word’s meaning; fourth, they ask students to repeat the 
word several times to build a phonological representation of the word; and 
fifth, they have students become “engaged with the word” through oral lan- 
guage activities. The fifth activity can be carried out with a partner. For in- 
stance, the teacher might say, “Tell your partner about a time you were 
mesmerized .” After a minute of sharing with partners, the teacher may ask 
two or three students to share what their partner said. 

The cycle of preteaching vocabulary is demonstrated in the appendix for 
the six key vocabulary words for the book John Patrick Norman McHennessy: 
The Boy Who Was Always Late (Burningman, 2001) — satchel, snapped, tore, 
swept, cling, and lie. 

Developing Vocabulary Through Discourse Around Text. Vocabulary 
is also developed through ongoing text-related dialogue between the 
teacher and students during the read-alouds. Teachers stop at specific in- 
tervals in the text to elicit discussion. Different methods are used depend- 
ing on the nature of the word, its cognate status, its depth of meaning, and 
its utility. Concrete words are demonstrated; for cognates, teachers tell 
students the cognate in Spanish or ask students for the English cognate. 
Tier Two words that have been pretaught are reinforced through ques- 
tions that require students to use and understand the words. Teachers 
provide Spanish definitions of Tier Three words (if they cannot be dem- 
onstrated) or simple English explanations. Teachers also use different 
kinds of questions to encourage vocabulary development. They ask initial 
questions that prompt students to talk about ideas rather than constrained 
questions that elicit one-word responses, and they use follow-up questions 
to help students develop their likely sparse first responses. They also use 
questions to help students move beyond using pictures and background 
knowledge in these responses and to encourage more elaborated re- 
sponses tied to the text. An example of such a question with John Patrick 
Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late can be seen in the appen- 



dix: What are the consequences for John Patrick? Have you ever invented 
excuses/escusas because you were late? 

Oral Language Activities to Build Vocabulary. The language devel- 
opment activities that follow the story are based in large part on the story’s 
words. Different stories lend themselves to different kinds of activities. But 
the key focus is on developing conceptual knowledge about the words and 
reinforcing labels for the word. This is also an opportunity for students to 
use the word in extended discourse through story retelling or in a different 
context such as in story mapping or dramatization. The section usually 
closes with written exercises for reinforcing word meaning and using multi- 
ple meanings of words in sentences. 

There are also ongoing activities designed to review words from previous 
stories and help students listen for and use words outside of the language 
arts class. Word Wizard is used to promote word use outside of class. The 
children take home their Partner Activities Book with a Word Wizard page 
where they can record the target vocabulary they hear outside of class. The 
Partner Books also contain activities to conduct with parents, older siblings, 
or for self-review, such as additional passages with the vocabulary learned 
that day through the DVDs and their decodable books. The classroom has 
word walls that contain pictures of the words and labels or words organized 
by category. Student writing is posted, as are posters containing reminders 
about grammar, syntax, and cognates. Examples of all these activities can 
be found in the appendix. 


Children in both conditions were pretested in fall 2002 and posttested in 
spring 2003. Children were pretested at their schools during the period 
from November 4 to November 24, 2002. At pretest, children were admin- 
istered four subtests of the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery-Re- 
vised (WLPB-R) in both Spanish and English forms: Picture Vocabulary, 
Letter-Word Identification, Word Attack, and Passage Comprehension. 
The WLPB-R is a comprehensive set of individually administered standard- 
ized tests for measuring abilities and achievement in oral language, read- 
ing, and written language. Testing sessions required, on average, 40 
minutes per child for each language. 

The Picture Vocabulary subtest measures the ability to name familiar and 
unfamiliar pictured objects. The WLPB-R Letter-Word Identification and 
Word Attack subtests were used to measure orthographic skills. In the Let- 
ter-Word Identification task, the first five letter-word identification items 
measure symbolic learning, or the ability to match a rebus (pictographic 



representation of a word) with an actual picture of an object. The remaining 
objects measure the student’s reading identification skills with isolated let- 
ters and words. The student does not need to know the meaning of any of 
the words presented but must be able to respond to letters or words he or 
she may not have seen before. Word Attack measures the student’s skill in 
applying phonic and structural analysis skills to the pronunciation of unfa- 
miliar printed words. The subject reads aloud letter combinations that are 
linguistically logical in English, but either do not form actual words or form 
low-frequency words. The first four Passage Comprehension items are pre- 
sented in a multiple-choice format that requires the participant to point to 
the picture represented by a phrase. The remaining items measure the par- 
ticipant’s skill in reading a short passage and identifying a missing key 
word. The WLPB-R was normed on a national sample of children, and the 
internal reliability for the four subtests used is 0.863, 0.918, 0.902, and 
0.914, respectively. 

Children were posttested at the end of third grade during the period 
from May 1 to May 20, 2003. Although children were posttested using the 
same measures used during the pretests, for the purposes of this chapter we 
report on the picture vocabulary subtest of the WLPB-R in English and 
Spanish forms. 

Examiners for all assessments were full-time, experienced bilingual test- 
ers hired and trained by the Johns Hopkins University in El Paso, Texas. 
Testers were unaware of the assignment of children to condition. 


Attrition resulted in the loss of 54 students (20 in the experimental group 
and 27 in the control group) between fall 2002 and spring 2003. This gen- 
erated a sample size of 239 for the present analyses of effects on achieve- 
ment outcomes. Attrition for each school is summarized in Table 6.2. As 
Table 6.2 shows, the attrition rate for both groups was similar — 17% in the 
experimental group and 15% in the control group. 


The study employed a series of analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) with con- 
dition as the independent variable, the WLPB-R vocabulary subtest as the 
dependent measure, and both Spanish and English pretests as covariates to 
adjust for initial difference between the treatment group and the control 
group. Thus analyses for Spanish and English Picture Vocabulary used both 
Spanish and English Picture Vocabulary at pretests as covariates. 



TABLE 6.2 

Attrition for Participating Schools 

Number of Participants 

Experimental Group 

Fall 2002 

Spring 2003 

Left school 

School A 




School C 




School E 




School G 







27 (17%) 

Control Group 

School B 




School D 




School F 




School H 










The results of the WLPB-R testing are summarized in Table 6.3. As the table 
shows, experimental and control schools were very well matched at pretest 
on the English Woodcock scales, but the Success for All students scored 
somewhat higher on all four Spanish pretests. 

English Posttests 

After adjusting for the initial pretest difference, the experimental group 
outperformed the control group on three of the four measures. The experi- 
mental group scored significantly higher than the control group on Word 
Attack (F j Ti - = 6.209, p = 0.013) with an effect size of +0.21 and Passage 
Comprehension (F y 233 = 3.753 ,p = 0.05) with an effect size of +0.16. The 
difference between the experimental and the control group scores was mar- 
ginally significant on Picture Vocabulary ( F , 233 — 3.042, p = 0.08) with an 
effect size of +0.1 1. No significant difference was found between the two 
groups on the Letter-Word Identification subtest. 

Spanish Posttests 

For the Spanish subtests, the experimental group scored significantly higher 
than the control group in Letter-Word Identification (F , = 4.864, 

TABLE 6.3 

Effects of the Bilingual Transition Program 
on English and Spanish Reading 

Success for All 


Effect Size “ 










Post* 3 

Picture Vocabulary 






















‘+0. 16** 


Letter Word ID 














+ 0.00 




Word Attack 




















Picture Vocabulary 






















+ 0.05 


Letter Word ID 














Word Attack 























Notes. “'Effect size = Adj. Post (Exp) -Adj. Post (control) / Unadjusted SD (control). 
b Adjusted for Spanish and English Pretests. *p < .10. **p < .05. 




p = 0.028) with an effect size of +0.26, and scored higher with marginal sig- 
nificance in Picture Vocabulary (F , s , = 2.874, p = 0.09 1 ) with an effect size 
of +0.14. No statistically significant difference was found on the Passage 
Comprehension and Word Attack subtests. 

The effects on Spanish measures were unexpected, as the emphasis of 
the program was on English reading, but the focus of the program on 
building vocabulary, on Spanish cognates (and false cognates), and other 
program features may have contributed to the experimental group’s su- 
perior performance in Spanish. However, the more interesting impacts 
were those seen on the English measures, where Success for All students 
showed modest but positive effects, compared to controls, on the English 
vocabulary measures. 


Even with an intervention that was implemented for less than a full year, 
modest positive benefits were seen on measures of English vocabulary. In 
addition, gains on scales assessing Spanish vocabulary indicate that the bi- 
lingual transition model may also be beneficial in promoting children’s 
reading skills in their home language, even though this was not a primary- 
goal of the intervention. Thus, carefully designed direct vocabulary instruc- 
tion improves vocabulary knowledge. The evaluation reported here is a first 
step in a program of research that we expect will produce an effective, 
replicable program to build word knowledge in English and facilitate Span- 
ish-to-English transition following a Spanish reading program. For the 
2003-2004 year, we are carrying out a second evaluation involving at least 
30 weeks of implementation of the transition intervention, this time includ- 
ing approximately 600 second-, third-, and fourth-grade students. 

As we extend on this line of research, we are particularly cognizant of in- 
formation learned from follow-up interviews with the teachers who partici- 
pated in this project. Teachers reported that having the lessons fully 
developed was critical to the implementation. They mentioned that it 
would have been an insurmountable task to preselect vocabulary from the 
different tiers, sort words into the appropriate categories, and create a vari- 
ety of strategies for teaching each word. Teachers also reported that without 
lessons, they probably would have selected an inappropriate meaning or 
would have been unsure of how to state the meaning. 

Even though this study was an initial effort, the research findings, ob- 
servations, and follow-up interviews with teachers suggest directions for 
policymakers and practitioners. First, this study underscores the critical 
role of vocabulary, if patterns of English-language learners’ comprehen- 
sion are to be altered. The students in the SFA transition program outper- 
formed students in the control group on reading comprehension. 



verifying a pattern with English-language learners that has been reported 
with native English speakers (McKeown et ah, 1983; National Reading 
Panel, 2000; Stahl, 1983). 

Second, vocabulary must be explicitly taught to English-language learn- 
ers if they are to catch up to grade-level standards. At the same time, this vo- 
cabulary instruction must be part of a comprehensive language/literacy 
program. Explicit instruction on word knowledge consisting of phonemic, 
phonological, and morphemic awareness, decoding, and understanding of 
the multiple meanings of the words should occur in the context of teaching 
reading and using texts. 


Adapted from Calderon, M., August, D., Slavin, R.E., Cheung, A., Madden, 
N., & Duran, D. (2004). The evaluation of a bilingual transition program for Suc- 
cess for All: A technical report. Baltimore, MD: Johns Elopkins University, 
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. 


STaR Story: John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the Boy Who Was Always Late 

by John Burningham 

Materials John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the Boy Who Was Always Late 


• Highlight or underline with yellow all the key vocabulary; with pink all 
the cognates; with green all the receptive vocabulary and/or advanced 

• Insert the labels with questions on the appropriate pages. 

Story Summary: This story is about a boy named John Patrick Norman 
McHennessy. Strange things happen to him on the way to school which 
make him late. His teacher does not believe him and he is punished. 
Finally, a strange thing happens to the teacher and John Patrick Nor- 
man McHennessy tells him that he does not believe him! 

Vocabulary Summary for Teachers 

Key Vocabulary: satchel (2), snapped (5), tore (10), swept (19), cling 
(21), lie (7) 



Cognates or approximations: crocodile/cocodrilo (2), lion/leon (10), 
manage/manejar, ingeniarse (13), gorilla/gorila (28) 

Receptive/advanced vocabulary: bushes (10), tidal wave/oleada (19) 

Multiple-meaning words: drain (2), lie (7) 

Idioms: set off (1), hurried off (9), on time (26) 

Preteaching Vocabulary 

Satchel / mochila(2) 

A bag carried over the shoulder 

Say satchel three times: satchel, satchel, satchel 

Let’s open our invisible satchels. What can we put in there? 

Say: I’m putting in my satchel. 

Snapped / estallo (5) 

1. To speak sharply or angrily. Please don’t snap at me! 

2. A sudden cracking sound. The alligator’s mouth closed with a snap. 
Say snap three times: snap, snap, snap 

Let’s do ‘my turn, your turn’ — do what I do and say what I say: 

Snap your fingers 3 times. 

Snap your arms like an alligator 

Step on the branch and make a big snap! 

Don’t snap at me or I’ll cry. 

Tore / rompid, desgarro (10) 

To make a hole by pulling. The nail on the door tore my jacket. 

Say tore three times: tore, tore, tore 

Have you ever torn your clothing on something? 

Swept / armstro, barrio (19) 

1. To move or carry rapidly and forcefully. The fire swept through the 

2. To clean or clear away with a broom or a brush. 

Say swept three times: swept, swept, swept 

Let’s do ‘my turn, your turn’ — do what I do and say what I say: 

Let’s sweep this floor clean. 

The river swept my plastic boat. 

The surprise swept me off my chair. 

Sweep the dust off your desk. 



Cling / pegarse (21) 

To stick to or to hold on to something or someone very tightly. He was 
very scared so he wanted to cling to my arm throughout the movie. 

Say cling three times: cling, cling, cling 

Answer the following questions in complete sentences. 

Does a spider cling to its web? 

Does a baby cling to its mother? 

What clings to your clothes? 

Lie / mentira, mentir, recostado, estar en una parte (7) 

1 . To get into or be in a flat, horizontal position. Let’s all lie down on the 

2. A statement that is not true. I told a lie yesterday. 

3. To say something that is not true. I lied about my age. I’m really 25 
years old. 

Say lie three times: lie, lie, lie 

I’m going to say some things. If it’s a lie, say “that’s a lie;” if it’s the 
truth, say “that’s the truth.” 

Our school principal is 15 years old. 

I am lying on the grass right now. 

My students love to learn. 

I have never told a lie. 

My students love to read. 

Before Reading: Story Preview 

Student Background Knowledge: 

Show the two pages before the story starts, where John Patrick has writ- 
ten “I must not tell lies ...” Ask the students: What do you think this is? 
Have you ever had to write something many times like this? What do you 
think happened? 

During Reading: Interactive Story Reading 

Begin reading the story, stopping after the page number indicated to ask 
predictive, summative, and inferential questions that will motivate students 
to interact with the story. In addition, you will be making the key vocabu- 
lary, idioms, cognates, and receptive vocabulary comprehensible. We have 
scripted the key words and receptive vocabulary, but you should let the 
students know which words are cognates and also explain the idioms to 
them. Remember to ask the questions after you have read the page. 



Page 1: 
Page 2: 
Pgs. 4-5: 
Page 6: 
Page 7 : 

Page 10: 
Page 13: 
Page 15: 
Page 16: 
Page 17: 

Pgs. 18-19: 
Page 2 1 : 
Page 23: 
Page 25: 

Pgs. 26-27: 

Page 28: 
Pgs. 29-30: 

What do you think is the “road to learn?” 

What do you think John Patrick has in his satchel? 

How did John Patrick get his satchel back? 

Did John Patrick tell his teacher the truth?Will his teacher believe him? 

What was the consequence for John Patrick? Have you ever invented 
excuses/escusas because you were late? 

What happened the next day on his way to school? 

What do you think the consequences will be for being late again? 

Is he in trouble again? What is his punishment this time? 

Repeat what he has to say. 

John Patrick is on his way to school again. Turn to your partner and 
predict what might happen on his way to school. 

What happened this time? 

What do you think the consequences will be this time? 

What does John Patrick have to do this time? Repeat what he must write. 

Turn to your partner and make another prediction about what’s 
going to happen this time. 

Now the teacher is asking John Patrick for help. Why do you think 
he said that to the teacher? 

Did anyone predict something like this w'as going to happen? 

So, what did John Patrick learn? 

After Reading: 

• Fact Review and Story Structure Review: Encourage students to recall 
the story elements by retelling the story in sequence. Create a se- 
quence chain such as the following on the overhead or board, and re- 
cord the students’ contributions. 

Story Critique 



Did you like the story? [use words like: fantastic, exceptional, exciting, 

mediocre because ...] 

What did you like about this story? 


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Sustained Vocabulary-Learning 

Strategy Instruction 

for English-Language Learners 

Marfa S. Carlo 
University of Miami 

Diane August 

Center for Applied Linguistics 

Catherine E. Snow 

Harvard Graduate School of Education 

Data collected for the National Assessment of Educational Progress dur- 
ing the years 1994-2000 show a difference of approximately 25 points in 
reading between fourth-, eighth-, and tenth-grade students who routinely 
speak a language other than English at home and students who speak only 
English at home (Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000). Research address- 
ing differential outcomes in school performance of linguistic minority 
and majority children has taught us that explanations for these differ- 
ences must address a complex set of factors including, but not limited to, 
differences in socioeconomic, linguistic, cultural, and sociopolitical cir- 
cumstances. We know of the overrepresentation of language minority 
children in high poverty schools, in chronically low-achieving schools, 
and in communities with low levels of formal education and low levels of 
economic resources of the type that translate into access to artifacts and 
experiences that are valued by schools. We know also that amid this pic- 
ture of seeming deficit there exists a wealth of individual, family, and corn- 




munity resources that enrich the lives of language minority children, but 
in ways that are not often captured by indicators of educational attain- 
ment. This is so because, by design, the intellectual and social resources of 
a particular minority group do not form part of the set of core values and 
knowledge targeted by most mainstream assessments of learning, which 
attempt to reflect the values and knowledge of a majority. 

In this chapter we describe an instructional intervention that addresses 
the English instructional needs of English-language learners (ELLs). This 
intervention, which we refer to as the Vocabulary Improvement Project 
(VIP), uses what ELLs do know — their first language — as a starting point of 
instruction. Specifically, this vocabulary intervention teaches children 
about academic English words while using their conceptual knowledge of 
these words in Spanish as a springboard to new learning. Before describing 
this intervention in depth and then the results of a reanalysis of data in 
which we considered long-term effects of the study, we provide an overview 
of why this aspect was chosen. 


Previous work (Garda, 1991; Nagy, 1997; Verhoeven, 1990) suggests that 
one major determinant of poor reading comprehension for English-lan- 
guage learners is low vocabulary. Lack of knowledge of the lower frequency 
academic words encountered in textbooks impedes reading comprehen- 
sion. This situation is elegantly illustrated in Garda’s (1991) account of 
Spanish-speaking children’s think-alouds while completing a standardized 
reading assessment. In one telling example, a student in the study named 
Evita was asked about her understanding of the word handicap in the stem of 
the standardized reading item, “A serious handicap for growth in trade 
is....” Evita explained that “the handicapped can’t go through there” 
(Garda, 1 99 1 , p. 383), indicating that to her this word functioned as an ad- 
jective and referred only to people. With such an understanding of the 
word, it is little wonder that Evita missed this item. 

This example illustrates the reading difficulties created by lack of breadth 
and depth of English vocabulary for ELLs. Lack of familiarity with a high 
proportion of the vocabulary in text reduces opportunities for productive 
contextual analysis. Likewise, unfamiliarity with less frequent meanings of 
words with multiple meanings, coupled with lack of awareness that many 
English words are polysemous, leads to faulty interpretations of text. 

Given that the vocabulary difficulties of ELLs can stem from lack of 
breadth of English vocabulary (not knowing as many English words as their 
English speaking peers) as well as depth (not knowing as much as they need 
to know about the words that they do know), a short-term intervention. 



from all indications in previous research, does not appear to be the solution 
(Garcia, 2000; Hart & Risley, 1995; Verhallen & Schoonen, 1993). Like- 
wise, given what we know about the inefficiency of direct vocabulary instruc- 
tion relative to the magnitude of vocabulary growth of school children, 
which Nagy and Anderson ( 1 984) estimate to be around 3,000 words annu- 
ally, it is unlikely that interventions that only teach word meanings will close 
the vocabulary gap between ELLs and their English-speaking peers. 
Rather, ELLs require interventions that strengthen their ability to apply 
strategies for independent vocabulary learning as well as provide direct in- 
struction in word meanings. 


The development effort that underlies VIP has addressed two components 
in particular: (a) a curriculum and (b) an instructional routine. We begin 
here with the curriculum because it involves the selection of words and also 
the kinds of knowledge about words that students require. For example, be- 
cause developing morphological connections across words was a critical 
part of the goals for students, the instructional routine needed to be de- 
signed to include activities that support this goal. 

The project has a third component — professional development — that 
is essential to student success. However, as the uniqueness of the project 
lies in the vocabulary curriculum and instructional routine, the profes- 
sional development component is not described as fully as the other two 
components in this chapter. 

Research and development of the curriculum and the instructional rou- 
tine have been conducted in a two-stage process. Both stages occurred in 
the same schools in three school districts across the country and, in some 
cases, with the same students over a 2-year period. In Study One, the curric- 
ulum and instructional routine were implemented with fourth-graders and, 
in Study Two, fifth-graders (some of whom had been part icipants in Study 
One as fourth-graders). The number of students who participated in the 
two studies is presented in Table 7.1. We describe the curriculum and in- 
structional routine for Study One as well as the influence of these compo- 
nents on student achievement first, followed by a short description of Study 
Two where adjustments were made to the curriculum and instructional rou- 
tine to make them more challenging for fifth graders. 

Study One 

As shown in Table 7.1, 259 students participated in the first study, which 
consisted of 10 lessons. A “lesson” consisted of eight components that oc- 
curred for 30—45 minutes in daily sessions on 4 days of each of 2 weeks. For 



TABLE 7.1 

Number of Participants in Two Studies 

Language Proficiency 

(English-Only speakers) 

English Language Learners 
(Native Spanish Speakers ) 

Experimental Comparison 



Study One: Grade 4 





Study Two: Grade 5 





Study Two: Grade 5 
& previous Grade 4) 





seven of the sessions, students participated in learning and instructional ac- 
tivities. The eighth session involved an assessment of content that had been 
covered over the lesson. Four lessons developed new content, whereas ev- 
ery fifth week was devoted to review of the previous 4 weeks’ target words. 

Curriculum. The VIP curriculum aims to develop a deeper and richer 
understanding of a target word’s meanings and words and concepts related 
to a target word. In addition, however, the curriculum is based on the recog- 
nition that students require strategies that extend to unfamiliar words in 
their reading. Prior research led us to emphasize two types of strategies. 
The first consisted of strategies that support inference making of the mean- 
ings of words in the context of text. Reviews by Fukkink and de Glopper 
( 1 998) and Kuhn and Stahl ( 1 998) served as the foundation for this empha- 
sis in the VIP curriculum. 

Prior research also shows that students benefit from specific strategies that 
support them in using roots, affixes (Baumann, Font, Edwards, & Boland, 
chapter 9, this volume), morphological relationships (Carlisle, 2003), and 
cognates (Garda & Nagy, 1993). In particular, cognates are a potentially 
powerful tool for native Spanish speakers because of both the close tie of 
Spanish to French, which was a source for modern English, and the direct 
link between Spanish and Latin, from which many scientific words originate 
(Calfee & Drum, 1986). Many native Spanish speakers learning to read in 
English, however, need to be made aware of these connections through in- 
struction (Nagy, Garcia, Durgunoglu, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993). 

If students are to apply strategies independently while reading texts, the 
texts that are used for instruction need to contain exemplars that teachers 
can use for modeling and scaffolding. We were also interested in using texts 
that were appropriate for and of interest to learners. In addition, we wanted 
texts that were available in Spanish as well as English, to ensure that ELLs 



could access conceptual knowledge available to them in the first language 
by using their knowledge of words that were translation equivalents to the 
English words and by highlighting the presence of cognates in the texts. 

The texts for the first study came from Arnold Lobel’s (1983) Fables. Fa- 
bles, with their classic narrative text structure (Stein & Nezworkski, 1978), 
seemed like a good starting point for a curriculum. Furthermore, Lobel’s 
Fables had been translated from English to Spanish, and Spanish versions of 
the text were available. A different fable with 1 0 to 12 target words was the 
focus of each of the eight lessons where new content was presented. Two of 
the 1 0 lessons were devoted to reviewing previously taught vocabulary and 
vocabulary strategies. 

For the most part, the English-language learners in our samples had suf- 
ficient oral English vocabulary for everyday communication but lacked 
in-depth knowledge of many words they encountered in their classroom 
textbooks. Consequently, our curriculum focused on words that had high 
frequencies of occurrence across content areas texts but were less frequently 
encountered in oral language (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002). To illus- 
trate the words that were chosen, we use Lesson 7 of the VIP fourth-grade 
program where the focus was around Lobel’s “The pig at the candy store.” 
The 12 words chosen by the research team for that fable are listed in Table 
7.2. The words and activities of other lessons can be found in Lively, August, 
Carlo, and Snow (2003a). 

In addition to the definitions of these target words, teachers were also pro- 
vided with additional information about the vocabulary in a fable. The idiom- 
atic use of language can be particularly challenging to English-language 
learners, so the curricular materials also highlighted those for teachers (e.g., 
on second thought), as well as a group of words that may require attention but 
not at the level of the target words (e.g., peppermints, wrappers, gumdrops). 

TABLE 7.2 

Words in Lesson 7 of the Fourth- and Fifth-Grade VIP Curriculum 

Grade 4 Grade 5 

Spanish cognates Contained, journey Common, congregate, 

elevated, humanity, 
monotonous, rival, 
torment, ultimatum, 

Noncognates Discourage, glow. Arouse, dank, pitched, 

halfway, heartburn, likely, battle, relief, stifling 
sprout, spin, tempt, 
twinkle, willpower 



Several features of the target words are dear from studying the words in 
Table 7.2. First, words such as likely, contain, halfway, journey and discourage 
are ones that students can be expected to encounter in content area and lit- 
erary texts in the future. Second, as Nagy and Anderson’s (1984) work sug- 
gests, some of the targeted words were part of fairly large semantic families. 
An example of such a word is discourage (e.g. , discouragement, encourage, cour- 
age, courageous). Third, many of the words had multiple meanings. The 
word spin, for example, can refer to the action of a weaver or spider as well as 
a particular perspective on telling or relating information or a story. 
Fourth, several of the English words share a cognate with Spanish: con- 
tained/contener and journey/jornada. For another group of words, the 
commonly used Spanish word is a cognate for a sophisticated synonym for 
the word: s p ro u ted/ germinar; likely/probable, and glowing/ candente . 

Instructional Routine. The principles of vocabulary learning and 
teaching that underlie the instructional routine of the intervention were 
drawn from previous work on native English-speaking monolinguals and 
English-language learners (e.g., Beck, McKeown, 8c Omanson, 1987; 
Blachowicz & Fisher, 1996; Nagy, 1988; Nagy 8c Scott, 2000; National 
Reading Panel, 2000; Stahl 8c Fairbanks, 1986). The instructional routine 
that was used appears in the second column of Table 7.3. 

The lesson format seen in Table 7.3 emphasized text comprehension as 
well as vocabulary instruction. The emphasis on the vocabulary instruction, 
as can be seen particularly in the content for sessions 3, 4, and 6, was to de- 
velop a strategic stance to acquiring word meaning rather than only teach- 
ing specific word meanings. This devotion of time to strategic knowledge 
for understanding unfamiliar words, rather than simply to building vocabu- 
lary size, was a deliberate choice. As Graves (2000) noted, students need to 
know about words, not simply acquire new words, if they are to be successful 
in understanding unfamiliar vocabulary in their reading. 

Professional Development. The professional development had begun a 
year before the implementation of the first study. In that year, both fourth- 
and fifth-grade teachers and their administrators at the three sites were in- 
volved in professional development activities. The curriculum materials pro- 
vided to the teachers included detailed lesson plans and quasiscripted lesson 
guides, as well as overhead transparencies, worksheets, homework assign- 
ments, and all necessary reading materials. These materials and the words to 
be taught were previewed in meetings with the teachers. 

Assessments and Results. The assessments that were gathered at the 
end of each lesson were useful to the research team to understand what as- 
pects of students’ vocabulary were aided by the VIP curriculum and instruc- 



TABLE 7.3 

Lesson Format: Fourth- and Fifth-Grade VIP Instructional Routine 


Grade 4 

Grade 5 


• Text introduction: Prediction, 
listen to teacher read aloud, 
discussion of fable 

• Preview for ELLs., including 
listening to Spanish summary of 
text, reading text, and previewing 
target words 


• Vocabulary introduction: Go over 
target words and their definitions, 
assign vocabulary review 
homework, address cognates 

• Story introduction, including 
making predictions of text content, 
reading text, participating in 
“circle vocabulary” and “extract 
definition” activities, assign 


• Expand meaning instruction 
(e.g., word association); distribute 
Word Wizard list 

• Activities with words: (a) words in 
context and (b) cloze sentences (in 
peer groups) 


• Instruction on Tools to Develop 
Vocabulary (e.g., multiple 

• Instruction on expanding 
meaning (with content such as 
word roots) 


• Using Words in Context (small 
group activity) 

■ Instruction on tools to develop 
vocabulary (with content such as 
using cognates) 


• Instruction: Tools to develop 
vocabulary (e.g., affixes) 


• Word Wizard Review 


• Vocabulary Assessment 

tion. To establish the efficacy of the strategy overall, however, we 
administered an extensive battery of tests to the VIP students and students 
in classes in the same schools who had been randomly assigned to the com- 
parison group. 

At the beginning and the end of the VIP intervention, students were as- 
sessed on: (a) the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised (PPVT-R); (b) 
polysemy production: generating many sentences to convey different mean- 
ings of poly semous words such as ring or check; (c) three multiple-choice cloze 
passages with six content words deleted at random per passage (including 
some words that were targeted in the intervention); (d) word mastery: 36 tar- 
get words, each with four short, multiple-choice definitions; (e) a word associ- 
ation task (Schoonen & Verhallen, 1998) in which 20 target words 
(approximately half from the target curriculum) were presented individu- 
ally, each surrounded by six other words of which students were to chose 
three to best define the word (e.g., debate has immutable associations to the 



words “rival,” “discussion,” and “opinion” but only circumstantial associa- 
tions to the words “president,” “television,” and “fight”; (f) morphology: a 
paper-and-pencil adaptation of Carlisle’s (1988) extract, the base task of 27 
items (less than a third of which were intervention words) where students 
needed to provide the base form of a derived word (e.g., discussion was stated, 
followed by a lean sentence context: What did he want to ). 

Large differences were found for language status (English-language 
learners versus English-only children) on all the measures, as well as site dif- 
ferences (i.e., Boston, Miami, and Santa Cruz, California). Impact of the in- 
tervention (condition by time interactions) was found, though, only for the 
Mastery test, which was designed to determine whether the children had 
learned and retained the vocabulary words taught in the curriculum. 

Overall, the evaluation of the first vocabulary intervention was disap- 
pointing. Clear treatment effects were not found for depth of word knowl- 
edge measures or for reading comprehension. However, there were 
significant interactions between school and gain and between school, con- 
dition, and gain, suggesting that the intervention may have been successful 
in particular schools. Thus, we built on these lessons in extending the inter- 
vention to the fifth grade, introducing a number of changes. 

Study Two 

The fifth-grade intervention was designed to be considerably more chal- 
lenging in words taught and level and variety of reading materials pro- 
vided. To support this increased challenge, the level of professional 
support to teachers and monitoring of the implementation were increased 
to minimize site differences. The full report of this fifth-grade intervention 
is reported in Carlo et al. (2004). In this context, we give only an overview of 
the changes in the curriculum and instruction from Study One. 

Curriculum. For the fifth graders, the content of the intervention 
shifted from the more familiar content of fables to a social studies topic. The 
chosen topic was immigration — a topic about which we believed our stu- 
dents (many of them immigrants or children of immigrants) had a vast store 
of background knowledge. 

This shift to a content area topic also meant that the types of texts that 
students read changed in genre. Over the 1 5 lessons of Study Two, students 
read four texts. All were informational in nature but took different forms: 
(a) a diary, Dear America: A Journey to the New World (Lasky, 1996); (b) a de- 
scriptive text, Immigrant Dids (Freedman, 1995); (c) oral histories of immi- 
grant teens. New Kids in Town (Bode, 1 995); and (d) A New York Times article 
entitled The New Immigrant Tide: A Shuttle Between Worlds (1998). 



By virtue of the topic, the words were more complex. The increased com- 
plexity of the words is evident in examining the words from Lesson 7 of the 
fifth-grade intervention that are given in Table 7.2. (For the content of 
other lessons, readers can refer to Lively, August, Carlo, and Snow (2003b).) 

As with the fourth-grade curriculum, the same principles can be seen at 
work in the choice of words. Once more, a substantial number of the words 
are part of semantic families with several or more members such as humanity 
(e.g., human, humanitarian) and unfamiliar {unfamiliarity, familiarity, familiar). 
Furthermore, many words have multiple meanings such as pitched and battle. 

Within a content topic such as immigration, however, some of the words 
would be expected to occur with somewhat less frequency than the words in 
fables. For example, ultimatum is part of a semantic family with more fre- 
quent members {ultimate, ultimately), but this word will appear with less fre- 
quency than many of the fourth-grade words. As many of the content area 
words have Spanish cognates, in learning a word such as ultimatum (and 
connecting this word to other members of the semantic family), the existing 
vocabularies of Spanish speakers provide a foundation for this instruction. 
The foundation that Spanish speakers bring to the content areas has also 
been reported for content words in science. Bravo , Hiebert, and Pearson 
(in review) examined sets of words that science educators targeted as critical 
to four topics: (a) 13 general process words (e.g., investigate, observe ); (b) 25 
words pertaining to soil (e.g., nutrients, decomposition); (c) 24 words pertain- 
ing to shoreline habitats {survive, adaptation); and (d) 19 words pertaining to 
chemical mixtures (e.g., acid, invent). In examining the cognates of these 
words, Bravo et al. (2004) distinguished between high-frequency and 
low-frequency cognates. The latter are Spanish/English cognates but are 
more than likely unfamiliar words to Spanish students. Among the 8 1 words 
that were analyzed, 50% were classified as high-frequency cognates, 24% 
were low-frequency cognates, and 26% were noncognates. 

Instruction Routine. Several adjustments were made to the interven- 
tion for Study Two. First, the intervention was 1 5 lessons rather than the 10 
lessons of Study One. Furthermore, as can be seen with the content of ses- 
sions within a lesson in Table 7.3, a lesson did not have as many sessions. 
The cycle of four lessons with new vocabulary followed by a review lesson 
was sustained in Study Two. However, because the number of components 
per lesson was condensed and because the number of lessons was increased, 
the number of words targeted in Study Two increased substantially, from 
approximately 100 to 180 words. 

Another adaptation provided Spanish speakers with the text (in both 
written and audiotaped versions) to preview in Spanish on Monday before 
its introduction in English on Tuesday. The Tuesday whole-group lessons 
involved presentation of the English text and target words, followed by an 



activity that involved identifying target words in the text whose meanings 
could be inferred by context. Wednesday lessons involved work in hetero- 
geneous language groups of four to six where English was used. In these 
peer groups, students completed two types of cloze tasks with the target 
words. The first cloze task always involved sentence contexts that were con- 
sistent with the theme of the instructional text. A second cloze activity in- 
volved sentences that employed the target words in contexts that were 
distant in theme from the instructional text, designed to help students un- 
derstand and use related meanings for the target words and, in the process, 
develop a sense that most words are polysemous. 

The word-learning strategies aimed at supporting students’ general- 
ization of vocabulary strategies and knowledge occurred on Days 4 and 5. 
The content of these sessions over the 1 5-week intervention is provided in 
Table 7.4. The “Expanding Meaning” lessons were intended to promote 
depth of word knowledge (word association tasks, synonym/antonym 
tasks, semantic feature analysis, etc.). The “Tool” lessons were designed to 
promote word analysis capacities in general, not specifically to reinforce 
learning of the target words. 

TABLE 7.4 

Expanding Meaning (Day 4 of Cycle) and “Tools” 
to Develop Vocabulary (Day 5 of Cycle) 


Expanding Word Meaning 

Tools to Develop Vocabulary 

1 . 

Word Roots 



Deep Processing 



Deep Processing 



Multiple Meanings 

Root words 


Word Guess 






Deep Processing 



Word Substitution 



Related Words 

Root Words 


Word Sort 



Synonyms/ Antonyms 




Root Words 


Word Substitution 



Deep Processing 

Multiple Meanings 


Word Bee 




Additionally, Teacher Learning Communities that met on a biweekly ba- 
sis were formed during the implementation of the fifth-grade intervention 
to preview the materials and the instructional techniques. At these meet- 
ings, practices that had worked well in previous lessons and aspects of the 
curriculum that had been problematic were discussed. These meetings were 
meant to provide support to the teachers throughout the implementation 
of the curriculum, and information to the researchers about aspects of the 
curriculum that were working well or not. The curriculum itself was not 
modified as a result of the meetings with the treatment teachers. 

Results. To summarize the results reported in Carlo et al. (2004), a 
multivariate analysis of variance — with the five dependent measures (Mas- 
tery, Word Association, Polysemy, Cloze, Morphology) and time (fall, spring) 
and predicator variables of site, language status, and condition — revealed 
overall between-subjects effects for site and language status. Tests of 
within-subjects effects showed significant gains over time as well as a signifi- 
cant interaction between gain over time and condition. These resultsjustified 
analyses of each of the outcome variables individually (Myers 8c Well, 1991). 

These individual analyses were conducted on five dependent mea- 
sures. Scores on the PPVT were used as a covariate as the patterns on the 
PPVT were higher for language status (EO students scored higher than 
ELL students) and for time (spring scores were higher than fall scores) 
but not for treatment. On the Mastery, Word Association, Polysemy, and 
Cloze measures, the intervention group had greater gains from fall to 
spring than the comparison group. These results were interpreted to 
mean that the students in intervention classrooms gained knowledge of 
the words that were explicitly taught as well as generative knowledge of 
words as evidenced by performances on morphological structure, about 
cognates, and about polysemy. 


Having developed and implemented two vocabulary interventions with 
ELLs, we became curious about the cumulative effects of strategy instruc- 
tion on English-language learners’ learning of English words. Inasmuch as 
a portion of the children in the fifth-grade Immigration intervention had 
also been part of the fourth-grade Fables intervention, it became possible 
for us to evaluate differences in the performance of children who had expe- 
rienced the vocabulary strategy instruction for 2 consecutive years relative 
to those who received only one year of strategy instruction or no instruction 
at all. What follows is a report of the results of our inquiry into the effects of 
sustained vocabulary learning strategy instruction. 



An Overview of School Contexts 

An overview of the participants has already been provided (Table 7.1), as 
have the assessments. What is critical to bear in mind is the comprehensive- 
ness of the contexts in capturing the Spanish speakers in the United States. 
The VIP project was carried out in three sites: (a) two California schools that 
served largely working-class Mexican American children, either in bilin- 
gual or in mainstream programs, (b) a Massachusetts school that served 
working-class, mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican students, again in ei- 
ther bilingual or mainstream classrooms, and (c) a magnet, English-me- 
dium school in Virginia that served mainly working-class Spanish speakers 
from the Caribbean and from Central America, native speakers of many 
other languages, and middle-class English-only (EO) speakers attracted by 
its excellent programs. 

Findings of the Reanalyses 

As mentioned previously, the fourth-grade intervention did not produce 
generalizable effects on all measures or all sites. The fifth-grade interven- 
tion, on the other hand, showed clear effects on our measures of target word 
mastery, knowledge of polysemy, depth of word knowledge, and reading 
comprehension. The only outcomes not impacted by the fifth-grade inter- 
vention were PPVT performance and morphological awareness. 

To consider the effects of participation in both the fourth- and fifth- 
grade units on students’ vocabulary knowledge and strategies, an analyses 
of covariance was conducted. This analysis controlled for English PPVT as- 
sessed in spring of fifth grade. Means for the various groups of students on 
the five measures appear in Table 7.5. The results suggested that learning 
word analysis skills in fourth grade enhanced the value of the fifth-grade 
curriculum. For most outcome measures, children who had received the 
fourth-grade Fables curriculum in addition to the immigration stories cur- 
riculum scored higher than children who had received only one or the 
other. In addition, the fifth-grade curriculum by itself generated greater 
gains than the fourth-grade curriculum by itself — an unsurprising outcome 
because the fourth-grade curriculum was our pilot study and, as evaluated 
at its conclusion, did not appear to affect test scores. The fifth-grade curric- 
ulum was both better designed and more challenging. 

Table 7.6 contains the results of t-tests comparing difference scores for 
performance on each of the vocabulary and reading outcomes over the du- 
ration of the fifth-grade intervention by intervention group (fifth-grade 
participation only vs. fourth- and fifth-grade participation). Participation 
in the fourth-grade curriculum enhanced the vocabulary learning of ELL 
children while they were in the fifth-grade curriculum with regard to their 



TABLE 7.5 

Means for Five Measures: Across Time of Test, Language Group, 
and Amount of Intervention 



















ELL never 











EO never 











ELL: Gr. 4 











EO: Gr. 4 











ELL: Gr. 5 











EO: Gr. 5 











ELL: Grs. 4, 5 











EO: Grs. 4, 5 











TABLE 7.6 

Results of Independent Samples t Tests of Differences in Performance 
Between ELL Students Receiving the 5th-Grade Intervention Only 
and Those Receiving Both the 4th- and 5th-Grade Interventions 




Sig. (2-tailed) 

Mean Difference 




< .05 





> .05 





> .05 


Word Association 



> .05 





< .05 


performance on morphology and mastery assessments. The additional year 
of vocabulary instruction appears to have strengthened the ELL children’s 
ability to engage in structural analysis of words. It should be noted that this 
effect is not a curriculum-specific effect, given that the words on this assess- 
ment were not targeted in the curriculum. Also, this assessment was not ad- 
ministered during the pilot year, thus satisfying any concerns that the 
differences could be attributed to test practice effects. More importantly, 
however, is the fact that significant growth on the morphology measure was 
not found for the fifth graders, suggesting that growth in structural analysis 
of words requires sustained and longer term instruction. 

Understanding that many words in English have multiple meanings — 
polysemy — and even serve multiple functions is a critical understanding for 



nonnative English speakers. As is depicted in Fig. 7.1, participation for 2 
years in the intervention led to a higher level of understanding of this as- 
pect of English, especially for English-language learners. 

It is also worth noting that the children who received 2 years of the inter- 
vention learned more of the target words in the fifth-grade curriculum than 
children who only got the fifth-grade intervention. This again may be inter- 
preted as a general effect on vocabulary learning because none of the target 
words had been instructed in the fourth grade. This suggests that the chil- 
dren’s ability to learn from instruction of the target was bolstered by having 
participated in the intervention the prior year. 


The evaluation of the fifth-grade curriculum (Carlo et al., 2004) suggests 
that a well-designed, challenging curriculum focusing on teaching aca- 
demic words, awareness of polysemy, strategies for inferring word meaning 
from context, and tools for analyzing morphological and cross-linguistic as- 
pects of word meaning can improve ELLs children’s knowledge of words 

FIG. 7. 1 . Average performance as a function of time of test, language group, and 
amount of intervention: Polysemy. 



and about words. Furthermore, children’s ability to comprehend texts that 
have challenging words can be facilitated as well. 

These gains meant making particular kinds of choices. The curriculum 
introduced only 1 2 to 14 words a week. An additional 1 0 to 15 words (avail- 
able in the books that were part of the intervention) were not taught in or- 
der to focus instruction on strategies for using the contexts of sentences and 
texts, checking the likelihood that a word had a Spanish cognate, and ana- 
lyzing morphological structure for cues to meaning. This attention to strat- 
egies paid off. These strategies appear to have ongoing value to all students, 
including ELL students. 

Furthermore, the reanalysis presented here suggests that sustained di- 
rect vocabulary instruction can enhance ELLs’ ability for word learning. 
The reanalysis also suggests that some aspects of ELLs’ knowledge about 
words (e.g., morphological analysis) require a long-term commitment to in- 
struction that develops this knowledge. 


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Classroom Practices for Vocabulary 
Enhancement in Prekindergarten: 
Lessons From PAVEd for Success 

Paula J. Schwanenflugel, 
Claire E. Hamilton 

University of Georgia 

Barbara A. Bradley 
University of Kansas 

Hilary P. Ruston 
Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett 

University of Georgia 

M. Adelaida Restrepo 

Arizona State University 

As is the case with many children across the United States, one out of five 
children in the state in which we live and work lives below the poverty line 
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). This poverty puts children at risk of reading 
problems (Conger, Conger, & Elder, 1997; Duncan, Young, Brooks-Gunn, 
& Smith, 1998; McLoyd, 1998). Preschoolers living in poverty are more 
likely to have poorly developed vocabulary and language skills (Graves, 
Brunetti, & Slater, 1982; Hart & Risley, 1992, 1995; Smith, Brooks-Gunn, 
& Klebanov, 1997; Washington & Craig, 1999). These depressed language 
skills for poor preschoolers may not be directly related to poverty per se, but 
to parent-child interaction styles, home environmental factors, and read- 
ing practices associated with poverty (Adams, 1990). The national focus on 




the provision of prekindergarten services is designed to ameliorate some of 
the negative effects of poverty on children’s preacademic skills. 

Given the early intervention emphasis, targeting vocabulary may be 
particularly important. Young children’s vocabulary has a large impact 
on early reading achievement. Children who begin school with small vo- 
cabularies are more prone to have difficulty in learning to read and are at 
risk for long-term reading problems (Copeland & Edwards, 1990; Snow, 
Burns, & Griffin, 1999; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002), particularly with 
comprehension issues (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). A meta-analy- 
sis conducted by Scarborough (2001) found a significant correlation be- 
tween young children’s receptive vocabulary and reading achievement 
(Median r = .40). Thus, finding ways to enhance the vocabularies of chil- 
dren who enter school with limited vocabulary seems key to improving 
later reading comprehension and even early word decoding skills 
(Schwanenflugel & Noyes, 1996). 

The gap in children’s vocabularies upon school entry is enormous. The 
vocabulary gap between high and low SES children entering kindergarten 
is estimated at around 3,000 words (Hart & Risley 1995), and is even larger 
later in elementary school (Baker, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998). For 
teachers seeking to remediate these vocabulary deficits, the task is enor- 
mous. Providing a multitude of opportunities for vocabulary growth within 
the classroom seems necessary. Yet, existing preschool curricula provide 
teachers with little guidance in how to do this. 

We know that attending preschools with better general preschool class- 
room quality promotes children’s preacademic skills (Bryant, Burchinal, 
Lau, & Sparling, 1994), verbal cognition (Bryant et al., 1994), and language 
abilities (Dunn, Beach, & Kontos, 1994), regardless of their home status. 
Language experiences tend to be particularly poor in low quality preschool 
classrooms (Bryant et al., 1994; Helburn, 1995). Thus, one goal for improv- 
ing preschool quality is the development of teacher practices designed to 
promote children’s linguistic and vocabulary grow'th. 

This chapter focuses on assessing the implementation, sustainability, 
and effectiveness of one effort to promote the use of classroom practices de- 
signed to enhance the vocabularies of prekindergarten children through a 
program we developed called PAVEd for Success (which stands for Phono- 
logical Awareness and Focabulary Enhancement, two of the experimental 
features of the program). Through this work, we have learned much re- 
garding which classroom practices are likely to be implemented by 
prekindergarten teachers. This is critical given that, although some pro- 
grams have been effective in the short term, these efforts to enhance vocab- 
ulary have met with teacher resistance (Lonigan & Whitehurst, 1998). 
Currently, there is little to no research to guide policymakers regarding 
which classroom practices for 4-year-olds show the best implementation and 



sustainability in the classroom, and benefits in terms of improved vocabulary 
skills in children. 

For our purposes here, we distinguish between implicit and explicit prac- 
tices for enhancing children’s vocabularies. By implicit, we mean that the 
practice encourages the growth of children’s vocabulary without being the 
direct focus of the activity, such that vocabulary growth is a positive by-prod- 
uct in the service of other goals; in our case, these practices were: encourag- 
ing teacher-child talk (Building Bridges), and interactive storybook reading 
(CAR Talk). In contrast, by explicit, we mean that word learning is the direct 
focus of the activity, and both children and teachers are aware of this focus; 
in our case, these practices were didactic-interactional book reading, hav- 
ing vocabulary-explicit targets, and using a novel-name nameless category 
(N3C) presentation strategy. 


Building Bridges 

Both the quality and quantity of teacher talk is critical in affecting the size 
and quality of children’s vocabulary. To increase the quality and quantity of 
teacher talk, we developed a set of practices we called Building Bridges that 
drew on both the teacher talk and the student-teacher relationships litera- 
ture (Howes & Hamilton, 1992; Howes, Hamilton, & Phillipsen, 1998; 
Pianta & Steinberg, 1992). 

A first priority in designing the Building Bridges component of the in- 
tervention was to increase the number of conversational interactions be- 
tween individual students and their teachers. Individual conversations 
between students and teachers are infrequent in most preschool settings 
(Dickinson & Tabors, 2002; Dunn, Beach, & Kontos, 1994). However, the 
amount of talk between children and adults predicts their oral language de- 
velopment (Wiezman & Snow, 2001). For example. Wells (1985) found “a 
clear relationship between children’s rate of language learning and the 
amount of conversations they experienced” (p. 44), and of particular im- 
portance was that “the child’s experience of conversation should be in a 
one-to-one situation in which the adult is talking about matters that are of 
interest and concern to the child” (p. 44). 

To address this issue, we asked teachers to systematically engage each 
child in a 5-minute conversation at least three times per week and we pro- 
vided guidelines for structuring consistent times that would be “teacher 
talk” or Building Bridges times. Building Bridges was loosely based on 
Pianta’s (1999) intervention for remediating problematic student-teacher 
relationships. Building Bridges provided students with a consistent time in 



which teachers were available and open to individual interactions with stu- 
dents. From a language perspective, the goal of Building Bridges was to en- 
sure that all children in the classroom had opportunities to engage in 
extended conversations with their teachers, but student-teacher relation- 
ships were also expected to benefit. 

A second goal of the Building Bridges program was to increase the rich- 
ness of the conversations preschool teachers had with their students. Al- 
though most verbal interactions between preschool teachers and their 
students tend to be positive (e.g., praise, redirection; Wilcox-Herzog & 
Kontos, 1998), those verbal interactions are frequently related to routine 
matters (Dunn, Beach, 8c Kontos, 1994). Routine talk is concrete or “here 
and now,” (e.g., How many do you see? What is this?). In contrast, cognitively 
challenging talk asks children to interpret information and speculate or hy- 
pothesize about alternative reasons (Hughes & Westgate, 1998; Kontos 8c 
Wilcox-Herzog, 1997), as well as to discuss vocabulary, summarize, and 
clarify one’s thinking (Dickinson & Smith, 1994). Cognitively challenging 
talk in the classroom has been linked to the understanding of literate acts 
(Rosemary & Roskos, 2002), emergent literacy development (Smith & 
Dickinson, 1994), and growth in reading achievement (Taylor, Peterson, 
Rodriguez, 8c Pearson, 2003). To make classroom conversations between 
teachers and children more meaningful and cognitively challenging, we 
stipulated that conversational topics should be the child’s choice rather 
than instructionally related (Soundy & Stout, 2002). 

CAR Talk 

A second, implicit component of our vocabulary program involved in- 
creased opportunities for and interaction around storybook reading. To 
make it memorable for teachers, we called this set of practices CAR Talk. 
Specifically, CAR is an acronym that stands for the kinds of questions we 
wanted teachers to ask children while they were reading: Competence ques- 
tions, Abstract thinking, and Relate talk. The aims of CAR Talk were derived 
from research on storybook reading. 

One aim of CAR Talk was to increase the amount of storybook reading 
and the quality of interaction around the reading. Whereas the amount of 
storybook reading has increased in elementary schools over the past 40 
years (Austin & Morrison, 1963; Lickteig& Russell, 1993; Jacobs, Morrison, 
& Swinyard, 2000), a similar change has not occurred in preschools. In 42 
Head Start classrooms, Dickinson and Sprague (2001) found that in 2 days 
of observation, only 65% of classrooms had any storybook reading time at 
all and those that did spent an average of 2 minutes on it, with little interac- 
tion around the books. (The situation was even worse for non-Head Start 
classrooms serving low-income children.) 



Another aim of CAR Talk was enhancing the quality of interactions 
around the reading, including the size of groups to whom the stories were 
read. Probably the single most important aspect of storybook reading in the 
development of vocabulary is the interaction that takes place between the 
adult reader of storybooks and the child listeners (Biemiller, 2001). Al- 
though reading books aloud straight through is correlated with low reading 
achievement scores (Allison 8c Watson, 1994; Morrow, Rand, & Smith, 
1995; Share, Jorm, MacLean, & Matthews, 1984), positive benefits have 
been reported when teachers read interactively (Whitehurst, Arnold, Ep- 
stein, Angell, Smith, & Fischel, 1994). In interactive reading (also called 
dialogical or coconstructive; Dickinson 8c Smith, 1994), open-ended ques- 
tions are asked throughout the storybook reading to promote high-level 
participation. The book, then, merely serves as a stimulus around which a 
high degree of interaction should take place. 

We further specified that CAR talk be carried out in small groups no 
larger than five to encourage the participation of individual children. 
Reading interactively in small groups has been shown to be effective for en- 
hancing vocabulary in children living in poverty (Whitehurst et al., 1994). 
Children who hear stories in small interactive groups understand and recall 
story elements better than children listening in large groups (Cornell, 
Senechal, & Broda, 1988; Morrow 8c Smith, 1990). They are more likely to 
ask their teachers the meanings of words outside of reading time. The 
teachers, themselves, are more likely to use challenging vocabulary than 
other teachers (Wasik & Bond, 200 1 ). One potential difficulty in implemen- 
tation is that teachers seem to have difficulty arranging small-group read- 
ing (Wasik & Bond, 2001; Whitehurst et al., 1994). 

To implement CAR Talk, we suggested the following: (a) Prior to read- 
ing a book, create a set of competence questions to allow children to prac- 
tice skills they have already mastered (e.g.. Can you find the [object] in the 
picture? Who said, “[phrase]”?), a set of abstract thinking questions (e.g., 
What is [character] thinking? What will happen next? How do you think 
[character] feels? How are [two objects] different?), and a set of related 
questions that link the text to the students’ experiences (How is [character] 
the same as you? What would you do if you could [action]?); (b) put each 
question on a Post-it note in the book at the proper page, so it would be 
readily available when needed; (c) read to children in small-group settings. 

We also focused on the value of rereading storybooks. Prevailing prac- 
tices in preschools do not emphasize repeated readings. Two or more read- 
ings of a book may be necessary for a significant improvement in vocabulary 
(Jenkins, Stein, &Wysocki, 1984; Senechal, 1997; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). 
However, repeated readings may not be necessary for vocabulary improve- 
ment in preschoolers if the words are explained during the story (Brett, 
Rothlein, & Hurley, 1996; Ewers & Brownson, 1999). However, as an im- 



plicit vocabulary practice, rereadings might provide some benefit in vocab- 
ulary development. 


Despite the ubiquity of the problem of low vocabulary levels in preschool- 
ers, there is remarkably little research describing explicit practices for high- 
lighting the importance of vocabulary to preschoolers. Next, we describe 
three explicit strategies that we believe may have some value in promoting 
vocabulary development. 

Didactic-Interactional Book Reading 

Didactic-interactional book reading represents an effort to balance build- 
ing vocabulary and comprehension. In the didactic-interactional style, 
teachers often pull out the vocabulary word and provide a synonym or re- 
cast to broaden the definition of the target word. This strategy may require 
minimal interaction from children (children passively listen to the target 
words defined or simply repeat) to more extensive expressive interaction 
(children expressively use the word in response to a question or in choral 
repetition; Justice, 2002). Significant gains in vocabulary have been found 
for the didactic-interactional style of reading, even with minimal interac- 
tion, compared to straight-through reading (Brabham & Lynch-Brown, 
2002). Elley (1989) found that vocabulary learning nearly doubled for 7- 
and 8-year-olds even when the reader merely stopped and provided a defi- 
nition of vocabulary words immediately following their occurrence, com- 
pared to straight-through reading. Reese and Cox (1999) observed that 
4-year-olds with smaller vocabularies may actually do better with the didac- 
tic-interactional style compared to a standard interactive style. 

In our version, we merely asked teachers to stop and make note of spe- 
cific new words in the context, describing relations between the words and 
the context. On subsequent rereadings, they might ask children to make 
some sort of response when they hear these new words they are learning. 

Explicit Targeted Vocabulary 

Another strategy for encouraging vocabulary growth is to create set of tar- 
geted vocabulary words that are to be directly dealt with in multiple ways. 
One successful intervention using this approach was by Wasik and Bond 
(2001). In that study, 4-year-olds were taught 10 target vocabulary words 
weekly using an integrated package of books, objects, and activities. 
Children were presented with concrete representations of the words and 



were provided with definitions prior to book reading. Teachers then inter- 
actively read two books that contained these words several times over the 
week. Then, use of these target words was encouraged by classroom activi- 
ties that allowed children to play with the objects. Children made expres- 
sive and receptive vocabulary gains for the targeted vocabulary words, and 
general gains on a standardized test of receptive vocabulary. 

In our version, we asked teachers to develop a set of 1 0 target words 
weekly, five from each of two books they were planning to reread during the 
week. Teachers were asked to create activities that would allow children to 
use the target words elsewhere in the classroom, and they themselves were 
to use the words expressively in their speech. They created informal assess- 
ments such as Vocabulary Bingo or Get Caught with the Word vocabulary logs, 
which they were asked to use systematically. 

Novel-Name Nameless Category (N3C) Presentation Strategy 

Usually, between the ages of 1 and 2 years, normally developing children 
experience what has been called a vocabulary spurt (Dromi, 1987), where 
children move from learning a few words per week to around nine words 
per day (or 3,000 words per year; Nagy & Anderson, 1984). The responsi- 
bility for this spurt can be attributed to a number of universal strategies that 
children develop relating to word learning. Among these is a strategy that 
has been termed the novel-name nameless category strategy (or N3C; Golinkoff, 
Mervis, & Hirsh-Pasek, 1994; Mervis & Bertrand, 1994) that allows for a 
quick map between a novel word and an unnamed object. Golinkoff et al. 
( 1 994) state that “N3C is a heuristic that moves a single hypothesis for what 
the novel word might mean to the top of the stack: the novel term maps to 
an unnamed object” (p. 143). The N3C principle allows 2-year-old children 
to fast map nouns, verbs, and adjectives (Golinkoff, Hirsch-Pasek, Mervis, 
Frawley, & Parillo, 1995). 

As children develop more complex vocabulary, they are able to move be- 
yond the N3C principle to more sophisticated context learning strategies. 
But for prekindergartners still building basic vocabulary, the N3C is a key 
vocabulary learning strategy. By nesting an unknown picture or object for a 
new word among pictures or objects of commonly known things, the 
teacher can evoke the N3C strategy. “Which one is an artichoke?” is likely to 
elicit a correct response, when an artichoke is displayed between an apple 
and a banana. Preliminary evidence indicates that the N3C strategy is an ac- 
tive tool for children’s word learning even at 7 years old (Liu, Golinkoff, & 
Sak, 2001; Sugimura & Maeda, 1997). 

Despite the ubiquity of this strategy in research on child word learning, 
there is virtually no research on its use as a teaching strategy. In our study, 



the N3C presentation format was promoted as a vocabulary introduction 
strategy. Specifically, teachers were asked to introduce the five targeted 
vocabulary words they had selected from their chosen text one at a time, 
using props (either concrete objects or pictures) in an N3C format (e.g., 
presenting a representation of an unknown word such as radish, next to 
two representations of known words such as carrot and tomato). Following 
their presentation, teachers read the books from which the words were de- 
rived using CAR Talk, adding a didactic focus on the words as they ap- 
peared in the text. In days following the initial introduction of vocabulary, 
the props for vocabulary were simply queried for their labels prior to re- 
reading the books. 


The vocabulary intervention was part of a larger preliteracy intervention 
whose primary goal was to focus on the use of research-based practices to 
improve the preliteracy skills of young children. Beyond the vocabulary 
practices described here, we provided all intervention teachers with pro- 
fessional development on enhanced environmental print standards, un- 
derstanding the needs of limited English-proficiency preschoolers, and 
teaching the alphabet. All intervention teachers received training on the 
implicit vocabulary enhancement practices described earlier (CAR Talk 
and Building Bridges). Another subset also received training on the ex- 
plicit vocabulary enhancement practices. A subset of teachers received 
training on explicit practices for teaching phonological awareness. A 
secondary goal of the intervention was to rate the value added by these 
stepped-up explicit variants in an otherwise literacy-rich classroom envi- 
ronment. For the current purposes, we focus on evaluating the imple- 
mentation and effectiveness of the vocabulary practices we have 
described and compare it to controls who did not receive any of this pro- 
fessional development. 

Our evaluation of the vocabulary program included 425 children attend- 
ing a free, lottery-funded, prekindergarten program connected with the 
public school systems in three counties. Two thirds of the children received 
free or reduced school lunch. Half were female, and 7% had been diag- 
nosed for special education services. According to parental report, 43% of 
the children were identified as African American, 5% as Asian/Asian Ameri- 
can, 2% biracial, 34% European American, and 16% as Latino. Parents re- 
ported 78% of children as speaking English as their first language, 17% 
Spanish, and 4% some other language. Parental report indicated that 23% 
of mothers had less than a high school education, 49% a high school di- 



ploma, 11% some college/technical training, and 18% a BA or better. 
Children ranged from 4 years, 0 months of age to 5 years, 0 months at the 
start of the study. Of these 425, 17 children were missing data from one 
time point, so they were excluded from our evaluation. 

This study was conducted in 37 prekindergarten classrooms serving 
720 four-year-old children and administered by three local school dis- 
tricts. Classrooms in one district participated as a control site. Each class- 
room served 20 children and was staffed by one certified teacher and one 
paraprofessional. Because all teaching staff are viewed as teachers by the 
children, training was provided to both the teacher and the para- 
professional, but the specific training components varied across class- 
rooms. Teachers in 31 classrooms received training in the implicit 
vocabulary practices (CAR Talk and Building Bridges). Teachers in 18 
classrooms received training in the explicit Vocabulary Enhancement 
practices as well. Teachers in 6 control classrooms received no training on 
any of the practices. 

Teachers received professional development in a 3-day session prior 
to the start of the academic year. Training for the explicit Vocabulary En- 
hancement practices included a discussion of the literature on vocabu- 
lary in preschool children and its relationship to later literacy, and we 
provided a rationale for all implicit and explicit practices based on the 
research literature. We discussed why chosen practices might be relevant 
for prekindergartners from different linguistic, cultural, and socioeco- 
nomic backgrounds. 

The training focused on practice and was rich in examples. Teachers 
were given time and materials to develop their own lessons. Training ses- 
sions were followed by biweekly classroom visits from PAVE preliteracy spe- 
cialists during the 15-week intervention period. The specialists observed 
the literacy activities being carried out in the classrooms, conferred with the 
teachers regarding their implementation of the activities, and supported 
teachers in the development of materials. The literacy specialist conducted 
a minimum of five formal observations across the intervention period in 
each classroom, reviewed lesson plans, and collected surveys from teachers 
during the intervention period. Fidelity ratings were based on both the 
quality of the teachers’ implementation of practices based on the formal ob- 
servations and the frequency with which these practices were implemented 
based on the surveys and lesson plans. 

During the sustainability period of the project, teachers were asked to 
continue completing the weekly surveys. At the conclusion of the project, 
they were interviewed about the curricular decisions they made and why 
they did or did not choose to implement or sustain a particular activity. 




Implicit Vocabulary Practices 

Car Talk. Teachers were most successful in implementing CAR Talk 
than any of our other practices. Eighty-one percent of the teachers effec- 
tively implemented CAR Talk. To be considered successful, teachers had to 
use the CAR Talk questioning strategies as they read each book and provide 
(story )book reading at least five times per week in a large group and three 
times per week in small-group settings. 

Teachers were generally comfortable with the CAR Talk questioning tech- 
niques and easily adopted those into their reading. As one teacher noted: 

It’s not something that we didn’t do before, I think every good teacher 
questions in those ways. What I did like was some of the specific ideas about 
having at least two questions on each of these levels and writing them on a 
sticky note before you put it in a book to read it. That was good because it 
made me have to go back and think ... and, because you had to think, you 
came up with much better questions that generated more discussions. 

Large-group reading was already part of teachers’ routine so they were 
familiar and accepting of this structure. 

Teachers expressed more concerns about small-group reading. Prior to 
the intervention, most teachers defined a small group as comprising 10 chil- 
dren and generally divided the class into two groups, each working with ei- 
ther the teacher or the paraprofessional. We defined a small group as having 
five or fewer children, which required them to adopt a new strategy. Several 
classrooms accommodated for this requirement by using volunteers — foster 
grandparents or students from the older grades — to read to small groups of 
children. Other teachers created a small-group reading center so that they 
worked with a group of five children while the other children engaged in free 
choice activities (e.g., puzzles or table toys) in centers around the room. 

When we spoke to teachers about the sustainability of these practices, 
most teachers continued to use CAR Talk although they were less formal in 
identifying specific questions prior to reading individual books. Like most 
other small-group intervention programs (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998), 
this practice was largely discontinued after the intervention. Teachers felt 
that it was simply too time-consuming to continue small groups and that the 
interactive aspect of book reading could be maintained in a large group. 
However, teachers did see value in students having had this experience 
even though they discontinued it: “I think that (small group) has helped 
build their confidence ... practice that we did with the small groups with 
them, it might have been practice in coming to the larger group.” Thus, 
they reinterpreted small-group reading as a way of transitioning children 



Children have gathered on the rug for large group reading time and they 
are reading a new book. The teacher holds up the book, points at the title, 
and asks, “What’s this?” A child answers, “Yellow sun.” The teacher responds, 
“Yes there’s a yellow sun and the name of the book is the Very Busy Spider and 
the author’s name is Eric Carle.” She begins to read the book, asking ques- 
tions and talking about the text and pictures throughout the story. “Let’s see 
what’s on this page. What do you think is going on? What is this cow doing 
with this spider? Have you ever watched a spider make a web? Can you make 
a sound like a goat?” Children rather noisily begin to “maaa” like goats and 
she holds up her hand and begins to speak softly, a signal to settle down. The 
children seem eager to continue the story and the goat noises give way to 
more attentive listening. This teacher has found that it works best for her to 
talk through the book the first time she reads it in the large group using a 
style which includes elements of performance and interactive reading. She 
rereads the book again in small group using a more constrained but still in- 
teractive approach, and then finally she rereads the book for a third time 
straight through in large group. 

Box 1. An example of CAR Talk and interactive storybook reading from PAVEd 
for Success. 

into participating in larger groups. Box 1 illustrates one successful imple- 
mentation of our storybook reading practices. 

Building Bridges. To be considered successful in implementing Build- 
ing Bridges, teachers had to engage each child individually or in small 
groups in a conversation lasting about 5 to 1 0 minutes three times per week. 
They also had to keep records of the children to whom they had talked. 
Building Bridges was successfully implemented in 52% of the classrooms. 
Difficulties in implementing Building Bridges occurred largely because of 
time and record-keeping factors: 

That was the most difficult component of the program . And, it wasjust because 
you were having to document when you were talking to the children; I mean, 
that is something that you naturally do anyway, but three times a week both my 
paraprofessional and I and then for five minutes. It wasjust a time issue. 

Teachers who were successful found times during their regular routine, 
typically mealtimes, but even so it was difficult. “Just finding the time to sep- 
arate yourself from the group because the second you separate yourself, 
that’s when they all want to come and talk to you, you know, one at a time.” 
Some teachers also struggled with meeting the different language capabil- 
ities of individual children in their classrooms. “Trying to have conversations 
with children who either choose not to interact socially with others or their 
speech can’t be understood or they can’t speak English is frustrating — it’sjust 



very frustrating.” Asking teachers to engage in conversations with a child with 
whom they did not, at least initially, share a common language was a chal- 
lenge, and those who were successful began by simply commenting on what 
the child was doing or using simpler yes/no questions. One teacher described 
her experience: “You really had to just pull stuff out of them [the nonnative 
English speakers] and you might get one little short answer and if you just 
keep talking, they finally got to where they’ll open up and talk to you too.” 
Despite the difficulty some teachers had in systematically implementing 
this strategy, those that did felt that it paid off, particularly from the per- 
spective of supporting teacher-student relationships. “Before, it would be 
in one and ear and out the other, so, you get to know your children a lot 
better. That was a great benefit.” Or as one paraprofessional noted, before 
they began Building Bridges, “There were some kids that probably got left 
between the cracks because they didn’t talk and we just really never noticed 
that a lot of kids weren’t even talking.” 

Given that many teachers had difficulty implementing Building Bridges, it 
is not surprising that most discontinued it during the sustainability phase of 
the project. Teachers certainly saw the value of the experience but could not 
fit it into their schedules as a consistent practice. “ Building Bridges may have 
had a big influence ... thinking well that’s such a good thing to do but 
when?” Teachers talked about sustaining a focus on engaging children in 
conversations, but they did not maintain systematic ways of tracking that 
these conversations took place. Box 2 provides an illustration of how one 
teacher successfully carried out Building Bridges. 

Early on a Monday morning, a group of 8 children and their teacher were sit- 
ting at a table in their classroom as 5th grade safety patrol students arrived 
with a breakfast cart. This teacher had struggled with how to implement 
Building Bridges', there seemed to be no time during the day — mealtimes 
were too noisy and disruptive in the cafeteria. All of the children seemed to 
need their naps. She couldn’t find a way to schedule it during small group 
time. Finally, with the support of her principal, she had been able to move 
breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom. Building Bridges was now part 
of their regular routine. The teacher and paraprofessional alternated eating 
with different groups of children. As breakfast began the teacher leaned over 
to a little boy and asked about his weekend. The child looked up and excit- 
edly said, “I got sick and threwed up.” This topic seemed to immediately in- 
terest all the children at the table and though they listened, they didn’t 
interrupt, they knew this was “his turn” and that their turn would come. 

Box 2. An illustration of classroom use of Building Bridges. 



Explicit Vocabulary Practices 

The explicit vocabulary intervention posed many challenges for teachers, 
and just 6 1 % of the teachers implemented the explicit vocabulary enhance- 
ment practices in their classrooms with a high degree of Fidelity. It appears 
that the challenges were, in large measure, organizational. Teachers had 
difficulties deciding on vocabulary-rich units, finding books with interest- 
ing vocabulary, and thinking of activities that might support the use of vo- 
cabulary. Our intention was to focus on effective practices while providing 
teachers the freedom they needed to choose themes and materials that 
worked for them. In reality, this meant that teachers had to expend quite a 
bit of energy identifying the target vocabulary words, finding appropriate 
books, finding pictures or objects for the N3C activities, and thinking of ex- 
tension or assessment activities. 

Identifying vocabulary words that clearly related to a theme and specific 
books had some unexpected pitfalls. For example, many of our teachers be- 
gan the year exploring the theme of friendship and frequently read the 
book The Rainbow Fish (Pfister, 1992). This book is about a little fish that 
learns to be a friend and share his pretty scales, and it supports the theme of 
friendship, but it was difficult to use as a source for target vocabulary. They 
correctly identified words like scales, starfish, or coral reef as good vocabulary 
words, but the words were unrelated to their overall friendship theme. Al- 
though we helped teachers identify appropriate themes, books, and target 
vocabulary words during the intervention phase, it was still hard for teach- 
ers to find 10 new target words each week that related to a theme and were 
included in two appropriate books. 

Some teachers also had difficulty finding pictures or objects for each tar- 
get vocabulary word. As one teacher noted, “Nouns seemed to work. There 
were some other vocabulary areas I wanted them to know, and that was a 
real challenge . . . some ones like waddle. ” Teachers who were successful used 
Internet picture resources as a source for pictures to support vocabulary 
learning. Others used book illustrations as a source of vocabulary pictures. 
Others incorporated target vocabulary into their classroom through a 
“show-and-tell” routine by asking children to bring in objects from home 
for each target vocabulary word. 

On the positive side, teachers found that children were very excited 
about learning new vocabulary words. As one teacher noted: 

It was good to see that they picked up on that kind of stuff. And then to watch 
them, during the unit, play with the stuff in the room, “That’s the stethoscopel 
That’s the tongue depressorl” ... instead of being the popsicle stick (which is what 
it has been their entire life). 



Teachers who effectively implemented the explicit vocabulary prac- 
tices embedded these practices as part of large-group storybook reading, 
free play, center activities, or other ongoing classroom procedures. Many 
teachers, even those who were successful, were initially concerned: “It was 
just so overwhelming ... it was just like I need 3 more hours added to this 
day to get all this stuff done and to feel like it was going to be effective.” 
Teachers had to reorganize their schedules to incorporate these activities 
and they had to work effectively as a team with their paraprofessional. As 
one teacher noted, she needed to “keep a lot of what we had been doing 
’cause that’s what we knew, and just kind of add those in.” Another said, “I 
incorporated my vocabulary in with my book sharing because that made it 
a whole lot better and ... we ended up reading probably two to three times 
a day in a large-group setting . . . then the next week it’s up in the book cen- 
ter and they are reading the books to each other.” Teachers also brought 
target vocabulary words into free-choice or center activities by including 
the target vocabulary words in the writing center, featuring vocabulary as 
part of the unit, or having children dictate stories together as a class, which 
emphasized the vocabulary words. 

Classrooms in which vocabulary assessment was systematic were often 
those in which both the teacher and the paraprofessional took an active 
role. For example, the teacher might ask questions about the target vocabu- 
lary words during large-group time while the paraprofessional assessed in- 
dividual children’s responses using a checklist. One teacher asked children 
to raise “thumbs up” when they heard a current target vocabulary word be- 
ing used and “hands up” for a target word from a previous week. Children 
in that classroom loved being the first with “thumbs up” or the only one to 
remember a word with “hands up.” 

To be successful, teachers had to be good organizers. Classrooms in 
which explicit vocabulary practices were less effective were those in which 
teachers had difficulty “fitting vocabulary into the day” or focusing on spe- 
cific vocabulary entirely: “It takes looking ahead, I think, and actually plan- 
ning what you think the children are capable of doing and trying not to be 
... overwhelmed.” 

As we moved into the sustainability phase, teachers seemed to maintain a 
focus on vocabulary but dropped the formal implementation guidelines. 
Many continued to target specific vocabulary, usually at least five words per 
week, and they did continue to incorporate target words into thematic 
small-group activities. They did not continue to introduce words using the 
N3C strategy, base the target words on specific texts, or systematically assess 
vocabulary. Moreover, many teachers throughout the intervention and 
sustainability period had incorporated the target vocabulary words into 
their parent newsletters: “I got several comments from parents about how 



It was two weeks before Halloween and the second day of a unit on spiders. 
The teacher did not want to emphasize Halloween in her classroom because 
of the varied religious backgrounds of children and families, but did want to 
focus on a topic that related to children’s current interest in things spooky and 
scary. The vocabulary words included arachnid, orb web, and hammock web. She 
had found pictures representing these words using and from the 
photographs in one of the books she was using. As I walked in the room I no- 
ticed the bulletin boards were newly decorated with a multitude of black spi- 
ders, each with eight pipe cleaner legs but each also decorated with widely 
differing configurations of spots. Children were just coming in from outside, 
stopping momentarily to get a drink of water or wash hands. As they entered 
the teacher asked them to find their spots on the rug and get ready for circle 
time. As they settled in she took her position at the front of the group while the 
paraprofessional sat in a small chair towards the back of the group with a pen- 
cil and clipboard in hand. She settled the children in and reviewed the vocab- 
ulary words she had introduced the day before using N3C. She read through 
an expository text about spiders paying special attention to the vocabulary 
words, asking questions, and in some cases summarizing the text because the 
book was at a third or fourth grade reading level. Throughout the group time, 
the paraprofessional jotted notes and completed a checklist about children’s 
expressive use of the vocabulary words. When group time ended, the children 
were sent to various areas throughout the classroom. With the help of the 
paraprofessional, the children tossed a ball of yarn from one to another to cre- 
ate a giant spider web. 

Box 3. An example of classroom activities from the explicit Vocabulary Enhance- 
ment program. 

impressed they were with some of the vocabulary words.” Thus, the focus on 
target vocabulary may have carried over into children’s home environ- 
ments. Box 3 provides an illustration of the vocabulary program in action. 



Prior to evaluating the effectiveness of the program for improving chil- 
dren’s vocabularies, we determined whether each teacher carried out the 
key aspects of the practice most of the time based on observation notes, in- 
terviews, and lesson plans. For each classroom, we decided whether each 
teacher showed fidelity with CAR Talk, Building Bridges, and the explicit 
vocabulary enhancement program separately. Recall that not all teachers 
had received professional development on the explicit features of the pro- 
gram, so they would not have been expected to demonstrate these prac- 



tices. Moreover, teachers in the control classrooms had not received any of 
this training, so would have been extremely unlikely to have carried out the 
practices given the x equirements that we set for demonstrating fidelity on 
given practices. Thus, in some classrooms, children’s teachers were ob- 
served to have carried out only one of the three practices with fidelity, 
whereas in others they carried out all of them. In still others, including all 
the control classrooms, children were not exposed to any of the practices in 
a systematic way. These differences among classrooms were used as the ef- 
fective levels of the program (none, one implicit, two implicit, one im- 
plicit/one explicit, and all practices) from the point of view of the children, 
regardless of whether the teacher did not receive professional development 
on a given practice or simply chose not to carry it out. 

Children’s receptive and expressive vocabularies were assessed using the 
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Ill (Dunn & Dunn, 1997) and the Expres- 
sive Vocabulary Test (Williams, 1997). Note that we did not directly assess 
whether children learned the particular vocabulary teachers had targeted, 
but rather, whether vocabulary growth would be reflected on standardized 
tests of vocabulary knowledge, presumably a much tougher standard. 

The PPVT-III and EVT were part of a larger battery of preliteracy assess- 
ments administered to the children in a quiet area in their school. Each test 
took approximately 15 to 20 minutes to administer. Children were pro- 
vided with stickers upon completing each test and they received children’s 
books for their participation in the study. Children were tested once at the 
start of the intervention, immediately after the 15-week intervention, and 
then 3 months later at the end of the school year. Standard scores were cal- 
culated based the children’s chronological age at the time of testing. 

Effects of the vocabulary practices were determined using the proce- 
dures suggested by Rausch, Maxwell, and Kelley (2003), who reviewed vari- 
ous analytic schemes for pretest-posttest designs, including repeated 
measures Analysis of Variance, analysis of gain scores, and Hierarchical 
Linear Modeling. They concluded that an Analysis of Covariance, treating 
the pretest as the covariate, was the most powerful approach to determining 
effects of an intervention. ANCOVA, because it allowed the use of regres- 
sion to control for preexisting ability, had no less power than many of these 
designs and more parsimony. In this study, we were interested in overall ef- 
fects of vocabulary practices. However, the use of ANCOVA in this way is 
conservative because a great deal of variance is accounted for by the 
covariate, the children’s initial vocabulary. 

Effects of the program were evaluated for children’s receptive vocabu- 
lary and expressive vocabulary separately. We also distinguished whether 
children were designated as native English speakers according to parental 
report. Overall, children in the intervention started the school year with 



very low vocabulary levels (PPVT: M = 83, SD = 21; EVT: M = 92, 

SD = 17). A 5-teacher practice level (none, one implicit, two implicit, one 
implicit/one explicit, or all) X 2 first language (English or Other) X test 
time (immediate versus delayed posttest) repeated-measures ANCOVA 
was carried out using the child’s pretest scores as a covariate for the 
PPVT-III and EVT separately. 

For the EVT, there were no significant main effects of Time of testing, 
child’s first language, teacher practice, or interactions between any of these 
factors. However, only 58% of children not speaking English as their native 
language had enough English proficiency to even attempt EVT testing dur- 
ing pretest, so their data are not included in this analysis. Clearly, the pro- 
gram had little impact on expressive vocabulary. 

For the PPVT, the effects of the intervention were much more positive. 
As seen in Fig. 8.1, there was no main effect of time of test, F ( 1 , 297) < 1 , 
suggesting that any effects of the program were fairly stable following the 
immediate posttest. There was a significant effect of the child’s first lan- 
guage, F(l, 397) = 5.29,/) = .022, partial eta 2 = .013, and first language X 
time interaction, F (1, 397) = 4.50, p = .033, such that English language 
learners made larger receptive vocabulary gains than native English speak- 
ers did across all practices. Clearly, attendance at preschool in general is 
important for developing the English vocabulary skills of English language 





</> c 
*o <5 

s o 

















Testing Post- Intervention 

□ None 

IB One Implicit 

0Two Implicit 

El One Implicit, One Explicit 

■ All 

FIG. 8.1. Changes in children’s pretest adjusted PPVT-III standard scores as a 
function of the number and type of vocabulary practices implemented by their 
teacher during the 15-week intervention period (None; One Implicit; Two Im- 
plicit: One Implicit, One Explicit; All). 



learners. However, most importantly for our purposes here, once adjusted 
for pretest PPVT, there was a main effect of teacher practice, 

F (4, 397) = 3.58 ,p = .007, partial eta 2 = .035, that was similar across native 
and nonnative English-speaking children, F ( 4, 397) = 1.39, p = .239. 

Simple contrasts indicated that children whose teachers carried out any 
combination of program practices with fidelity ended up with higher vocab- 
ularies than controls, all p < .05. It seems that the more practices teachers 
engaged in, the better off children appeared to be, particularly if explicit 
vocabulary practices were used. Adjusting for initial vocabulary level, by the 
end of the year children whose teachers had carried out all the practices 
scored 8.2 standard score points and 14 percentile ranks higher than those 
whose teachers carried out none of them. Clearly, if the practices were car- 
ried out through kindergarten, children’s vocabularies might well fall 
within in the normal range. 


We have identified a number of promising approaches for enhancing the vo- 
cabularies of prekindergarten children. Systematic approaches, both im- 
plicit and explicit, were found to have an impact above and beyond 
enrollment in a quality preschool environment. Clearly, the more ways vo- 
cabulary was targeted, the more children’s vocabularies improved. Our find- 
ings support the view that a comprehensive approach to vocabulary offers the 
best opportunity for supporting the linguistic needs of young children. 

We found that the gains children made during the intervention were 
maintained following the intervention despite the fact that some of the sys- 
tematic aspects of program were dropped. What remained, however, was 
teachers’ focus on core practices that supported vocabulary learning. 
Rather than simply saying, “Focus on vocabulary,” or merely, “Talk to 
kids,” we provided very specific guidelines for how and why that should be 
done. Teachers who had the training were able to modify practices in a way 
that continued to support vocabulary. 

With regard to enhancing teacher-child talk in the classroom, teachers 
benefited from a structure that made scheduling conversations with indi- 
vidual children part of a routine. Although the systematic record-keeping 
aspect of Building Bridges was largely discontinued f ollowing the interven- 
tion, teachers had set up a foundation in their classrooms that made it more 
likely that children would initiate conversations with them. A classroom cli- 
mate had been created where such conversation was the norm. 

With regard to CAR Talk, we feel that the secret of the teachers’ success 
in the implementation can be attributed to the simplification that we made 
to other procedures that had been suggested by other researchers. CAR 
Talk encouraged children to demonstrate both simple and difficult types of 



knowledge, while motivating them to relate books to their personal experi- 
ences. These practices may have fostered children’s engagement in the text 
and averted a difficult period where children were unable to provide an- 
swers to the abstract questions that were raised (McKeown & Beck, 2003). 

Our interviews and observations convince us that having an explicit focus 
on vocabulary is something that preschool teachers want. It is also clear that 
developing an integrated explicit focus on vocabulary (including concrete 
props, stories, activities, and assessments) is difficult without a program 
package. If one was provided to them, it is likely that at least relevant parts 
would be implemented. 

For children entering school already at risk for reading failure, this pro- 
gram had a substantive impact on their vocabularies. With some minor 
modifications, the integrated program we suggest might be feasible. We 
have described how teachers who were successful in implementing the prac- 
tices were able to integrate them into their classrooms. Our findings have 
direct implications for policymakers attempting to improve the preliteracy 
skills of young children. 


The research presented here was carried out as part of the funding from the 
U.S. Department of Education Early Childhood Educator Professional De- 
velopment program, 2001. Bradley is affiliated with the Department of 
Teaching and Learning at the LIniversity of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 
Restrepo is affiliated with the Department of Speech and Hearing Science, 
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. Hamilton and Neuharth-Pritchell 
are affiliated with Elementary Education; and Ruston and Schwanenflugel 
with Educational Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. 


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Strategies for Teaching 
Middle-Grade Students 
to Use Word-Part and Context Clues 
to Expand Reading Vocabulary 

James F. Baumann 
University of Georgia 

George Font 

Purdue University 

Elizabeth Carr Edwards 

University of Georgia 

Eileen Boland 

Fresno, California 

In two recent studies (Baumann, Edwards, Boland, Olejnik, 8c Kame’enui, 
2003; Baumann, Edwards, Font, Tereshinski, Kame’enui, & Olejnik, 2002), 
we explored the effectiveness of teaching middle-grade students to use root 
words, prefixes, and suffixes to derive word meanings, that is, to use 
word-part clues. We also taught students to scrutinize the text in sentences 
and paragraphs around an unfamiliar word to infer its meanings, that is, to 
use context clues. Results supported the effectiveness of our interventions. 
Quantitative, or numerical, findings revealed that students learned the 
meanings of prefixes and suffixes and used that knowledge to derive the 




meanings of novel words with affixes. The data also demonstrated that stu- 
dents who were taught specific types of context clues were able to use con- 
textual analysis to unlock the meanings of unfamiliar words. 

In addition to the numerical data, at the end of the instructional pro- 
gram we conducted interviews and invited participants to complete ques- 
tionnaires to provide us descriptive information about the interventions. 
We asked students to explain how they determined the meanings of un- 
known words, and several students noted that they used word-part clues. 
For example, one student stated, “I figured out [the meaning of semiretired], 
like I knew what retired means, so I just had to figure out what semi means. 
Semi means like part or half, so you’re almost or half-way retired.” Other 
students commented that they had relied on context: “After I read the sen- 
tence [containing/orh/Mfite], I noticed that it had a comma and then it said or 
courage.... I just used courage from what you taught us ... and that was one of 
the context clues.” 

When asked about the instructional program, teachers noted that their 
students were more likely to use context clues (e.g., “[My students] seem to 
be able to look for context clues better and pick out meanings.”) and 
word-structure information (e.g., “The students have been able to identify 
word parts now and figure out the meanings of words.”) to determine the 
meanings of difficult vocabulary. Students indicated that they used context 
(e.g., “I used to skip over [words], but now I go back and read for context 
clues.”), and others stated that they looked for word-part clues (e.g., “I see 
prefixes in other books I read.”). 

Given the findings of our research and similar research by others, we 
have prepared this chapter in order to present strategies that middle-grade 
teachers (Grades 4-8) might use to instruct students to use word-part and 
context clues to expand their reading vocabularies. We begin with a brief 
review of research on vocabulary instruction, with emphasis on teaching 
word-part and context clues as means to promote word knowledge. Next, 
we describe the interventions we implemented and provide sample lessons 
for teaching word-part and context clues in language arts and content area 
classes. We conclude by acknowledging limits to and extensions of the in- 
structional recommendations we offer. 


The Importance of a Multifaceted Vocabulary Instructional Program 

Vocabulary is strongly associated with reading comprehension (Anderson 
& Freebody, 1981; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1 997) and is an integral com- 
ponent of reading instructional programs (Beck & McKeown, 1991; 
Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000). Many researchers and writers have argued that 



a vocabulary instructional program should be multifaceted, or have multi- 
ple components (e.g., Johnson, 2001; Nagy, 1988). Graves (2000) identi- 
fied four components that possess both intuitive appeal and empirical 
support for expanding students’ reading vocabularies: (a) exposure to writ- 
ten language by engaging in wide, independent reading (Swanborn & de 
Glopper, 1999); (b) instruction in specific words (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986); 
(c) teaching students word-learning strategies for independent vocabulary 
acquisition (Fukkink & de Glopper, 1998; White, Sowell, & Yanagihara, 
1989); and (d) fostering word consciousness to promote motivated, reflec- 
tive word learning (Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2002; Scott & Nagy, 2004). 

In our research, we focused on Graves’s (2000) third component — teach- 
ing word-learning strategies — specifically, instruction in word-part and 
context clues. Nagy, Anderson, Schommer, Scott, and Stallman (1989) as- 
serted that “more than 60% of the new words that readers encounter have 
relatively transparent morphological structure — that is, they can be broken 
down into [meaningful] parts” (p. 279). In addition, Nagy and Anderson 
( 1 984) stated that “for every word a child learns, we estimate that there are 
an average of one to three additional related words that should also be un- 
derstandable to the child, the exact number depending on how well the 
child is able to utilize context and morphology to induce meanings” (p. 
304). Thus, there is potential power in skillful use of available word-part 
and context clues. 

Research on Teaching Word-Part and Context Clues 

Early research on teaching word-part clues, or morphological analysis, pro- 
duced mixed findings (cf. Otterman, 1955; Thompson, 1958), but more 
contemporary studies have indicated that students can be taught various 
word-parts, most often prefixes and suffixes, to derive the meanings of un- 
taught words (e.g., Graves & Flammond, 1980; Wysocki & Jenkins, 1987). 
There is also equivocal historic research on teaching context clues (cf. Askov 
& Kamm, 1976; Hafner, 1965), although more current research supports 
the efficacy of teaching students to employ linguistic clues to infer word 
meanings through context (e.g., Buikema & Graves, 1993; Jenkins, Mat- 
lock, & Slocum, 1989). Building on and extending this research, we recently 
conducted two studies involving teaching Grade 5 students to use word-part 
and context clues. 

Study 1. In the first study (Baumann etal., 2002), we wanted to find out 
if we could teach students morphemic (word-part) and contextual analysis 
as strategies for learning new vocabulary. We also wondered whether the ac- 
quisition of these word-learning strategies would affect students’ reading 



comprehension. To explore this, we conducted a study with fifth-grade stu- 
dents, providing them twelve 50-minute vocabulary strategy lessons. 

We included four groups of fifth graders in our study: a Prefix, Context, 
Combined, and Control group. For the Prefix Group, we taught them the 
meanings of 20 prefixes organized into families (e.g., the “Not Family” = 
in-, im-, un-, dis-) and how to derive the meanings of new words that con- 
tained those prefixes. For the Context Group, we taught nine types of con- 
text clues (e.g., direct definition, synonym) and how to use them to infer the 
meanings of unknown words. For the Combined Group, we taught them 
the information provided to the Prefix and Context groups, but in an ab- 
breviated fashion. For the Control Group, students read and responded to 
a children’s book, so that we could compare students who did not receive 
special instruction in word-part and context clues to those who did. 

We found that students in either the Prefix or Combined Group were 
more skillful at deriving the meanings of novel words that contained the 
prefixes w'e taught compared to students in the Context Group or Control 
Group. Similarly, we found that students in the Context or Combined 
Group outperformed students in the Prefix and Control group on mea- 
sures that had them use context to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words. 
We also found that the w'ord-part and context instruction was equally effec- 
tive when provided either separately (i.e., Prefix or Context Group) or in 
tandem (i.e., Combined Group). Students both high and low in vocabulary 
ability prior to the study seemed to benefit equally from the instruction. 
Finally, there were no group differences on a reading comprehension mea- 
sure. We concluded that students can be taught to use word-part and con- 
text clues to learn vocabulary independently, that combined w'ord-part and 
context instruction is just as effective as separate instruction, and that this 
instruction does not necessarily enhance text comprehension. 

Study 2. We were encouraged by our first study, but it was limited in 
that it was a fairly controlled, or “laboratory,” kind of study. At the conclu- 
sion of their review of vocabulary research, the National Reading Panel 
(2000) stated that “the Panel knows a great deal about the ways in which vo- 
cabulary increases under highly controlled conditions” but “there is a great 
need for the conduct of research ... in authentic school contexts, with real 
teachers, under real conditions” (p. 4-27). Therefore, our second study 
(Baumann, Edwards, et al., 2003) addressed the call for more naturalistic 
vocabulary research. Specifically, we enlisted the help of regular classroom 
teachers to provide the instruction (we had taught the lessons in Study 1). 
We embedded combined word-part and context clue instruction within the 
adopted school curriculum (a unit on the Civil War from the social studies 



textbook). And we integrated brief (15-minute) vocabulary strategy lessons 
into daily 45-minute social studies lessons. 

We provided instructional materials and staff development to eight 
Grade 5 teachers, who were randomly assigned to one of two intervention 
groups: a Word-Part/Context Group or a Textbook Vocabulary Group. 
Teachers in the Word-Part/Context Group taught their students 20 pre- 
fixes and suffixes and 5 context clue types as strategies for learning new vo- 
cabulary. We selected the instructional example words right from the social 
studies textbook lessons (e.g., citizenship was used to teach the suffix -ship). 
Teachers in the Textbook Vocabulary Group spent equivalent instructional 
time teaching students the meanings of content-specific vocabulary (e.g., 
tariff, secede) from the same social studies textbook lessons. The interven- 
tions spanned 2 months, with both groups receiving 25 lessons. 

We again found that combined word-part and context clue instruction 
generally was effective. Students in Word Part/Context Group classes out- 
performed Textbook Vocabulary Group classes on a test of new words that 
contained prefixes and suffixes that the students had been taught. They 
also outperformed the Textbook Vocabulary Group on a delayed test, al- 
though not an immediate test, that required students to determine the 
meanings of novel words included in social studies textbook excerpts the 
students had not yet read (i.e., words that had the same affixes that had 
been taught and words that were in contexts similar to the clues the students 
had been taught). As expected, the Textbook Vocabulary Group outper- 
formed the Word Part/Context Group on a test of the key vocabulary they 
had been taught. There were no group differences on measures of social 
studies learning (two textbook chapter tests) or a comprehension measure, 
and again, students both high and low in initial vocabulary knowledge 
benefited from the instruction. 

In summary, we concluded from our two studies that word-part and 
context clue instruction can be provided to middle-grade students in an 
integrated manner that enables them to derive the meanings of novel, 
transfer words that contain prefixes and suffixes that they had been 
taught. There also was evidence, although somewhat limited by the re- 
sults of Study 2, that students could apply knowledge of context clue in- 
struction to infer the meanings of novel, transfer words in experimental 
and natural texts. We also found that this instruction was effective for stu- 
dents who were initially high or low in vocabulary, although there was no 
evidence that the vocabulary strategies influenced students’ subject mat- 
ter learning differentially or enhanced their text comprehension. We 
now turn to a description of the elements of the instructional program 
employed in these studies. 




Instructional Content 

Word-Part Clues. Word-part clues are meaningful parts of words 
(morphemes) that a reader can identify and then assemble to derive the 
meaning of a previously unfamiliar word. Instruction in word-part clues 
typically involves teaching root or base words, prefixes, and suffixes. In our 
research, we provided students instruction primarily in prefixes, which 
Graves (2004) argues are efficient and effective to teach because prefixes 
are relatively few in number and have generally consistent spellings and 
meanings. We also taught a few high-frequency suffixes. 

We have listed later in this chapter (see Teaching Chart 3 adjacent to 
Sample Lesson 2) the prefixes and suffixes that we included in our re- 
search, along with additional affixes that we believe are worthy of in- 
struction based on their frequency of occurrence in various empirically 
and descriptively based listings (e.g., Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & 
Johnston, 1996; Blachowicz & Fisher, 1996; Durkin, 1981; Johnson & 
Pearson, 1978; White et al., 1989). We found that clustering affixes into 
groups, or “families,” when appropriate helped students to learn, recall, 
and apply them well, so that is the organization we recommend. We con- 
cur with Graves (2004), who suggests that affix instruction be restricted, 
at least initially, to words in which the affix removal results in an intact 
English word, or free morpheme (e.g ..pre/approve), as opposed to those 
in which affix removal results in a root that cannot stand alone as a word 
(e.g., pre/dict). 

Context Clues. Context clues involve the linguistic (e.g., words, phrases, 
sentences) and nonlinguistic information (e.g., illustrations, typographic fea- 
tures) available surrounding an unfamiliar word, which a reader can use to 
infer the word’s meaning. Instruction in context clues typically involves 
teaching students to use linguistic information to predict the meaning of a 
word (e.g., Blachowicz, 1993; Buikema & Graves, 1993; Durkin, 1981), and 
that was the focus of our research and the emphasis here. 

Various researchers and writers have offered listings of context clue 
types (e.g.. Dale & O’Rourke, 1986; Johnson 8c Pearson, 1978; Sternberg & 
Powell, 1983). Drawing from these sources, we identified nine context clues 
for instruction in our first study. In an attempt to make instruction more ef- 
ficient, we consolidated and reduced these nine types to five in our second 
experiment, which we present later (see Teaching Chart 4 adjacent to Sam- 
ple Lesson 3) and recommend for instruction. 



Instructional Framework 

In our research, we employed an explicit instruction model (Pearson 8c 
Gallagher, 1983) that included a gradual release of responsibility dimen- 
sion (Pearson & Fielding, 1991). This translated into an instructional 
framework that included verbal explanation, modeling, guided practice, 
and independent practice (Duke 8c Pearson, 2002) of the particular 
word-part or context clue under consideration. In Study 1 , we created in- 
structional texts to teach word-part and context clues. In Study 2, we cre- 
ated a few instructional texts, but we relied primarily on excerpts from the 
social studies textbook to teach word-part and context clues. We see an ap- 
propriate place for the judicious use of both specially constructed instruc- 
tional texts and regular curricular materials. The former are useful to 
clearly demonstrate to students how word-part and context clues function; 
the latter are necessary to promote transfer and application of word-learn- 
ing strategies to real-world texts. 

Sample Lesson Scenario 

The sample lessons incorporate instructional principles and examples 
from our two studies, but they are not lessons directly from the research. In- 
stead, we present four, sequenced sample lessons that reflect our empirical 
explorations and the strategies and guidelines we recommend for teaching 
students word-part and context clues (Edwards, Font, Baumann, & Boland, 
2004). The lesson sequence includes integrated instruction such that stu- 
dents learn to examine words simultaneously for all available intraword 
(word-part) and interword (context clue) linguistic information that may 
help them unlock a word’s meaning. For instructional efficiency and clarity, 
however, we believe that there is a place for separate instruction in word- 
parts and context dues, as long as the two are integrated ultimately. 

To demonstrate how teachers might embed word-part and context clue 
instruction within their existing curriculum, the lessons reference various 
subject matter texts and trade books, the latter of which could be read in 
conjunction with language arts structures such as book club (McMahon, Ra- 
phael, Goatley, & Pardo, 1997) or literature circles (Daniels, 2002). It is im- 
portant to recognize that even though the sample lessons focus on 
strategies for identifying word meanings, the strategy lessons should not 
dominate content or language arts instruction. Therefore, we intend for 
lessons like the following to represent a small amount of the total instruc- 
tional time, with the majority of class time dedicated to reading, discussing, 
analyzing, responding to, enjoying, and learning from the trade books and 
subject matter texts. 

Each of the following model lessons is taught by a hypothetical Grade 5 
teacher, who might work in an elementary school or in a middle school en- 



vironment. We have chosen to portray each lesson within a somewhat dif- 
ferent instructional context, so that we can demonstrate how the word- 
learning strategies might be integrated into different curricular areas. 
Lesson 1 describes how Ms. Jackson uses historical fiction to teach an over- 
view lesson on the combined use of word-part and context clues. In Lesson 
2, Mr. Lopez provides instruction in word-part analysis by connecting it to 
social studies textbook content, and Lesson 3 describes how Ms. Lee uses 
science class to teach context clues. In Lesson 4, Mr. Olson provides inte- 
grated instruction in word-part and context clues through his use of litera- 
ture circles. 

We use the following conventions in the sample lessons. Descriptions of 
lesson events are presented in regular type, with annotations referring to 
lesson procedures or teacher or student actions [in brackets]. We do not ad- 
vocate scripted lessons, but we present possible teacher wordings in bold 
type. Excerpts from published texts and instructional examples we have 
created are presented in italic type. Teaching charts and student work pa- 
pers are presented as boxed text figures. 

Sample Lesson 1 : Introducing Word-Parts and Context Clues 

Background. Ms. Jackson is a member of a team of fifth-grade elemen- 
tary teachers who have decided to focus on vocabulary. Team members 
have brought articles to team meetings that describe how students can use 
word-parts and context clues to learn new word meanings. Ms. Jackson has 
volunteered to begin a month-long effort in the language arts block in 
which she works explicitly with students on both word-parts and context 
clues. Because her program has long revolved around the reading and dis- 
cussion of literature, she knows that the combination of word-part and con- 
text clue instruction could go a long way in supporting students’ under- 
standing of the rich vocabulary in literature. Ms. Jackson knows that stu- 
dents have received general instruction in prior grades on context clues 
and structural elements, so she assumes that students know what context clue, 
root word, prefix, and suffix mean. Should she find this assumption to be un- 
true, she would reteach those concepts. 

The class has been begun reading Patricia C. McKissack’s (1997) Run 
Away Home as a complement to their study of postbellum U.S. history in so- 
cial studies. Run Away Home is historical fiction that builds on McKissack’s 
African American and Native American ancestors and tells the story of how 
Sarah Jane befriends a runaway Apache boy in southeast Alabama in 1 888. 
Chapters 1 and 2 of the book have been read and discussed in large- and 
small-group formats. 

Verbal Explanation. Following the instructional framework of 
Pearson (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), Ms. Jackson 



begins the word-part and context clue instruction with a verbal explanation 
of why and where the strategies will be useful: 

Sometimes when you read, you will come across a word for which you are 
not sure of its meaning. This can make it difficult for you to understand 
and enjoy the story. There are different things you can do to help you fig- 
ure out the meanings of unknown words. In several lessons beginning to- 
day, we will learn about two strategies: using context clues and looking for 
word parts like root words, prefixes, and suffixes. [If necessary, Ms. Jack- 
son would review the concepts of prefixes, suffixes, and root words at this 
time.] We will put these together in what I call The Vocabulary Rule, 
which will give you a strategy to help figure out the meanings of unknown 
words. [Ms. Jackson displays Teaching Chart 1 and reads the three steps to 
the students.] The Vocabulary Rule will not always work, but it is one more 
tool you can add to your Reading Strategy Toolbox to help you become in- 
dependent readers and learners. 

Modeling. Following verbal explanation, Ms. Jackson moves to the 
modeling phase of the instructional framework. To support this modeling, 
she has put part of the text that students have been discussing on an over- 
head transparency: 

Buster grew into a big dog, built like a collie, but until a dark reddish coatofaredbone. 

But Papa's delight turned sour when no amount of training could turn Buster into a 
fine hunting dog. “Too wild, uncontrollable. Useless," he announced, dismissing 
Buster as a failure. (McKissack, 1997, pp. 6-7) 

After students have read the text on the transparency, Ms. Jackson dem- 
onstrates how to use the vocabulary strategy: 

Let’s say that you are not sure what the word uncontrollable means. The 
Vocabulary Rule can help us figure out what it means. I’m going to model 
the three steps of The Vocabulary Rule. 

Step 1 says to read the sentences to see if there are any clues. [She begins 
reading and stops at uncontrollable .] Hmmm. Papa says that Buster is “Too 

Teaching Chart 1: VOCABULARY RULE 

When you come to a word, and you don’t know what it means, use: 

1. CONTEXT CLUES: Read the sentences around the word to see if there are 
clues to its meaning. 

2. WORD-PART CLUES: See if you can break the word into a root word, prefix, 
or suffix to help figure out its meaning. 

3. CONTEXT CLUES: Read the sentences around the word again to see if you 
have figured out its meaning. 



wild, uncontrollable.” I wonder if uncontrollable means something like 
wild, for Papa uses those words right after one another? What do you 
think? [Students reply to Ms. Jackson’s query.] 

Step 1 also says to read the sentences around the word, so I better read on. It 
says that Papa called Buster “useless” and thought of “Buster as a failure.” 
These seem like other context clues, for if uncontrollable means something 
like wild, then it makes sense that Papa would consider Buster to be useless 
and a failure as a hunting dog. It also said before that “no amount of train- 
ing could turn Buster into a fine hunting dog,” which seems to go along 
with the idea that Buster was wild. Does it seem like we’re finding useful 
clues that uncontrollable means wild ? [Students respond.] 

Now let’s try Step 2, which says to see if you can break the word into a root 
word and any prefixes or suffixes. It looks as though control might be the 
root word and that un- is a prefix and -able is a suffix. [She writes the follow- 
ing on the board, as she explains her reasoning for what each word part 
means: “ control = to be restrained or to hold back; un - = not; -able = capable 
of.”] So, if control means to be restrained or to hold back and -able means 
capable of, then controllable means capable of being held back or re- 
strained, like this. [She writes “ control + -able = controllable = capable of be- 
ing held back or restrained” on the board.] And if un- means not, then 
uncontrollable means not capable of being held back or restrained, or not 
tame. [She writes “un- + control + -able = uncontrollable = not capable of be- 
ing held back or restrained” on the board.] 

Step 3 says to check the context again. [She rereads the text on the transpar- 
ency.] Does the idea of Buster being not capable of being restrained or 
held back make sense? Do you get the idea that Buster is not tame or wild 
as Papa said? [Students respond.] 

Guided Practice. The third part of the instructional framework in- 
volves guided practice, during which students practice applying the skills 
with support from the teacher as well as other students. Ms. Jackson has a 
transparency with the following sentences ready: 

• Rashad was a disbeliever. He never accepted what anyone had to say or what 
he read. We expected him to question everything he heard and to view what he 
read with suspicion. 

• My Mom said that she thought that the winner of the reality TV show was pre- 
determined. She said that the people who put on the show had already decided 
which performer would win the grand prize. 

She reminds students of the three steps to figure out the meaning of the 
word disbeliever in the first example, referring them to the three steps on 
The Vocabulary Rule poster. After giving students time to apply the strat- 



egy, she asks for a volunteer to explain the use of the Vocabulary Rule to fig- 
ure out the meaning of disbeliever. She reinforces and reteaches The 
Vocabulary Rule as needed to help students apply it independently. She 
then repeats the process for the predetermined example. 

Independent Practice. The final step of the instructional framework is 
for students to apply the strategy independently. Several features of this in- 
dependent practice are important to note. First, Ms. Jackson has identified 
several instances from Run Away Horne in preparation for this practice, to 
which she refers students in the book. Second, she does not ask students to 
go through all instances all at once. 

In conjunction with the assigned independent reading of chapters 3 and 
4 of Run Away Home, Ms. Jackson has students use The Vocabulary Rule to 
try to determine the meanings of southbound (p. 11), sureness (p. 13), over- 
looked (p. 18), and unnatural (p. 1 9), recording their answers on paper. Time 
is given in class to start the assignment, so that Ms. J ackson can monitor stu- 
dents’ understanding of the strategies and help those who need assistance. 
Students are to come back the following day with descriptions of the useful- 
ness of The Vocabulary Rule with these words. 

The next day, Ms. Jackson begins her lesson with students’ descriptions, 
including their explanations of why and where the strategy was useful. 
When students’ explanations show misunderstandings, she leads them in 
applying the strategy appropriately. The Vocabulary Rule on the posterwill 
be revisited frequently over the next month through discussions of strategy 
use and, when necessary, modeling of the use of the strategy. The posterwill 
remain visible in the classroom even after the month-long period, and Ms. 
Jackson will ask students to review the strategy periodically as unknown 
words are encountered in texts and discussions. 

Sample Lesson 2: Teaching Word-Part Analysis 

Background. Mr. Lopez teaches social studies in a middle school. He 
has determined that comprehension of the social studies textbook is a prob- 
lem for a number of his students, which he sees as impeding the students’ 
learning. Having recently taken a university course in content area reading, 
he is aware of the importance of word knowledge to text understanding and 
subject matter learning. Thus, he has decided to implement a multifaceted 
vocabulary initiative this school year (Graves, 2000). As one component of 
his program, he has decided to teach his students strategies for independ- 
ent word learning by relying on word-part and contextual information. 

Mr. Lopez has planned a series of lessons on teaching word-part and con- 
text clues that he will implement as he teaches a unit on the Civil War using 
the adopted social studies textbook. Several days ago, he taught an introduc- 



tory lesson on The Vocabulary Rule that was similar to Ms. Jackson’s preced- 
ing lesson. He now moves into teaching specific word-part clues. This lesson, 
just like the other sample lessons, follows the instructional framework of ver- 
bal explanation, modeling, guided practice, and independent practice 
(Duke & Pearson, 2002; Pearson 8c Gallagher, 1983). Mr. Lopez assumes that 
his students possess general knowledge of structural elements, although he is 
prepared to review or reteach those concepts as needed. 

Verbal Explanation. He begins the lesson by connecting it to his pre- 
ceding introductory lesson and then explaining how to analyze words for 
meaningful parts as a strategy for deriving their meanings: 

We have learned about The Vocabulary Rule [pointing to Teaching Chart 
1] as a way to use context and word-part clues to help us figure out the 
meanings of difficult or new words. It says to first use context, second to 
look for word-part clues, and third to use context again. 

Today we will take a closer look at Step 2, using word-part clues. Please 
look at this second chart, which tells us more about how to use word-part 
clues. [He displays and reads Teaching Chart 2, explaining briefly each of 
the four steps to the students.] Knowing how to look for and use word parts 
to figure out word meanings is important because many root words have 
prefixes and suffixes, and we can use that information to help figure out 
the meanings of new words that contain those word parts. 

Modeling. Mr. Lopez now demonstrates how to analyze the meaningful 
parts of words as a strategy for deriving word meanings. He displays the fol- 
lowing section of the students’ social studies textbook on a transparency, in- 
vites a volunteer to read it aloud, and then proceeds to model strategy use: 

Differences among Americans help make the United States strong. Sometimes, how- 
ever, differences come between people. In the mid-1800s differences became disagree- 

Teaching Chart 2: WORD-PART CLUES 

1. Look for the ROOT WORD, which is a single word that cannot be broken 
into smaller words or word parts. See if you know what the root word means. 

2. Look for a PREFIX, which is a word part added to the beginning of a word 
that changes its meaning. See if you know what the prefix means. 

3. Look for a SUFFIX, which is a word part added to the end of a word that 
changes its meaning. See if you know what the suffix means. 

4. Put the meanings of the ROOT WORD and any PREFIX or SUFFIX 
together and see if you can build the meaning of the word. 



ments between Americans living in two regions — the North and the South. (Boehm et 
al., 2000, p. 129) 

Let’s say that you are reading and come to the word disagreements, and you 
are not sure what it means. You can try to figure out its meaning using the 
strategy in Chart 2. Step 1 says to look for the root word, which, I think, is 
agree, and which means to share the same view or opinion of something 
with another person. Step 2 says to look for a prefix. I see the prefix dis-, 
which means not or opposite. Step 3 says to look for a suffix, and I see 
-ments, which means the state or quality of something. Step 4 says to put 
the word parts together. If dis- means not and agree means to have the 
same view, then to disagree means to have a different or opposite opinion. 

If we add -ments, then disagreements means the state of having a different 
or opposite opinion. 

Mr. Lopez explains that there are many prefixes and suffixes and that 
one way to think about and learn them is to group them together into fami- 
lies, noting thatjust as families of people have things in common, families of 
prefixes and suffixes have meanings in common. 

We’ll begin by looking at the Not Prefix Family, of which dis- is one 
member. The top part of Chart 3 [displaying the chart] presents the Not 
Prefix Family, which has seven members: dis-, un-, in-, im-, il-, ir-, and 
non-. Next is the meaning of each prefix. As you can see, all of these pre- 
fixes are grouped into the Not Prefix Family because they share the 
common meaning of “not.” Let’s look at some example words. For in- 
stance, dislike means to not like, impolite means the opposite of polite, 
and so forth. 

You may also see that some of the later example words get a little harder. 
Does anyone know what inedible means? [Student responds, “not edible.”] 
Good; it means not edible, but you have to know what edible means. Does 
anyone know? [Student responds.] Yes, edible means something that is fit 
to eat or eatable. [If no student knows the meaning, Mr. Lopez could provide 
it, or a student could consult a dictionary or thesaurus.] Therefore, inedible 
means something that is not fit to eat. For example, you could say that Be- 
cause the potato salad was left out of the refrigerator all night, it spoiled and 
was inedible. 

Guided Practice. Mr. Lopez now has the students begin to use the 
word-part strategy themselves but still under his supervision, so he can sup- 
port, correct, or extend their application of it. Students also support one 
another through dialogue. He has them turn to and read the following sec- 
tion of their social studies book and continues with the lesson: 







Example Words 



not, opposite 

dislike, disloyal, disentangle, disparity, disrepute 




not, opposite 

unafraid, unhappy, undefeated, unsympathetic 


not, opposite 

invisible, incurable, inappropriate, inedible, 


not, opposite 

imperfect, impolite, imprecise, immobile, 


not, opposite 

illogical, illegal, illiterate, illegible, illimitable 


not, opposite 

irresponsible, irreplaceable, irrestible, 


not, opposite 

nonfiction, nonstop, nonliving, nonviolent, 




preview, predawn, prehistoric, prepublication 





forewarn, foreleg, forenoon, forethought, 



midnight, midair, midland, midlife, midterm 




intercity, intermix, interaction, international, 



postwar, posttest, postdate, postoperative 



over, high, big, 

superheat, superhuman, superdeluxe, 







more than, too 

oversleep, overload, overheat, overqualified, 


more than, too 

subset, substation, subcontinent, subtropical 



together with 

compress, composition, compatriot, compassion 





conform, concentric, conjoin, configure 


together with 

coauthor, cosign, coequal, cooperative 



bad, wrong. 

misuse, misread, misunderstand, mismanage. 






bad, ill 

malpractice, malodor, malnourished, 

(continued on next page ) 








Example Words 




antifreeze, antibiotic, antisocial, antipollutiona 





contraband, contradict, contraindicate, 






unicycle, unicorn, unidirectional, unicellular 





monorail, monosyllable, monogram, monotone, 



bicycle, biweekly, bicolor, biplane, bnomial 



triangle, tricycle, tricolor, triathlon, tripod 



quadrilateral, quadruplets, quadrennial, 



pentagon, pentameter, pentagram, pentathlon 



decagon, decade, decapod, decibel 



centimeter, centipede, centennial, centigram 


half, part 

semicircle, semiyearly, semiprivate, semiretired 



again, back 

redo, reorder, rearrange, reposition, reconnect 




across, through transport, transatlantic, transmit, transfusion 


take away 

defrost, deforest, deodorize, deflate, deactivate 


out of, away 

export, exhale, extinguish, exclude, excise 


low, to little 

underweight, underachieve, underestimate, 



person who 

employee, referee, trainee, interviewee 




that does 

writer, teacher, composer, reporter, consumer 



that does 

actor, governor, dictator, juror, donor 





full of, 


joyful, beautiful, successful, delightful, pitiful 





can be, worthy 
of, inclined to 

valuable, comfortable, dependable, 
impressionable, terrible, responsible, reversible, 


without, free of helpless, hopeless, bottomless, expressionless 




For most Africans, however, life was very hard no matter where they lived. They were 
unwelcome in many places and often were treated unfairly. State laws in both the 
North and South gave them little freedom. (Boehm et ai, 2000, p. 141) 

Do you see any words that have prefixes from the Not Family? [Students 
respond.] Yes, unwelcome and unfairly contain the prefix un-. So what do 
these words mean? [Students respond “not welcome” and “not fairly.”] 
Could someone reread the sentences and substitute “not welcome” for un- 
welcome and “not fairly” for unfairly ? Do the sentences still make sense? 
[Students respond.] 

Practice using word-part clues by completing this paper. [He distributes 
the Work Paper.] Let’s do the first one together. In the first row, you must 
break the word into the Not Prefix and the root word. Where would you 
break unafraid ? [Student responds.] Yes, unafraid can be broken into un- 
wind afraid. Next write what the root means. What does afraid mean? [Stu- 
dent responds scared, and students writes that.] Finally, what does the whole 
word unafraid mean? [Student responds and students write not scared or 
brave.] Good. Now complete the rest of the paper by working with a part- 
ner. You may use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you figure out the 
meanings of root words you may not know. 

When students have finished, Mr. Lopez does a group-check of their 
work, and he provides reinforcement and reteaching as necessary to guide 
students in their use of the word-part strategy. 

Independent Practice. As a final portion of the lesson, Mr. Lopez has 
students apply the strategy on their own. He accomplishes this by having the 
students read the next section in the textbook, identify words that contain 
Not Prefixes, and write down the words and their meanings. The next day, 
students share their lists, Mr. Lopez reviews the Word-Part Clues strategy, 
and students explain the meanings of words they included on their lists. 

As part of this discussion, Mr. Lopez notes that there are exceptions to 
the word-part strategy. For example, he draws attention to understand and 
imaginary, which are from page 142 of the social studies textbook. He has 

Work Paper: “Not” Prefix Family Practice 

Break the Word 

Root Means 

Full Word Means 



Not scared, brave 








students evaluate whether these words actually include the prefixes un- and 
im- and can be figured out according to the word-part strategy. He uses 
these “nonexamples” as an opportunity to point out that not all words that 
begin with dis-, un-, in-, im-, il-, ir-, and non- are necessarily prefixes, display- 
ing and discussing uncle, imagination, and iron to demonstrate that readers 
must be careful when using the word-part strategy. He also asks students to 
volunteer other nonexamples that they know. Finally, Mr. Lopez intro- 
duces and teaches the additional prefix and suffix families on Teaching 
Chart 3 in subsequent lessons, providing students cumulative practice on 
the application of the word-part strategy as each new family is introduced. 

Sample Lesson 3: Teaching Contextual Analysis 

Background. Ms. Lee teaches science on an elementary school 
fifth-grade team. Following a recent staff development series on the impor- 
tance of vocabulary teaching and learning, Ms. Lee and her colleagues have 
decided to emphasize vocabulary strategies in their reading/language arts 
and subject-matter classes. Ms. Lee incorporates young adult trade books 
into her science lessons, which are grounded on the adopted science text- 
book. She has created a series of vocabulary lessons to integrate into an up- 
coming science unit on life cycles and ecosystems. To extend the science 
unit topics such as food chains, biomes, and animal behavior, her class will 
read Jean Craighead George’s Julie’s Wolf Pack ( 1 997), the 6-year story of an 
Alaskan wolf named Kapu and his pack. This lesson on contextual analysis 
follows an introductory lesson like that taught by Ms. Jackson and several 
word-part lessons like the preceding one by Mr. Lopez. Ms. Lee’s lesson ad- 
heres to the same instructional framework (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Pearson 
& Gallagher, 1983) as Sample Lessons 1 and 2. She also assumes that her 
students possess general knowledge of context clues, but she is prepared to 
review and reteach these basic concepts if necessary. 

Verbal Explanation. Ms. Lee begins her explanation of the use of con- 
text clues by embedding it within the overall vocabulary strategy presented 
in prior lessons: 

We have been learning about The Vocabulary Rule. [She calls students’ at- 
tention to Chart I, rereads the three steps, and reviews each.] Let’s focus to- 
day on Steps 1 and 3, which involve context clues. Context clues are words 
or phrases that give readers clues or ideas to the meanings of other words. 
For example, look at this sentence. [Ms. Lee writes the following (from 
Baumann et al., 2002) on the board. ]When the sun hit its zenith, which means 
right overhead, I could tell it was noon by the tremendous heat. 

Can anyone tell me what the word zenith in the sentence means? [Student re- 
sponds “right overhead. ”] Yes, it says right in the sentence that zenith means 
right overhead. Sometimes context clues are very strong and give readers a 



clear idea of what a word means, as in this example. Sometimes, however, 
context clues are not so obvious, and readers must think hard to use them. 
Still other times there may be no context clues for hard words, or there 
might even be ideas that confuse you regarding a word’s meaning. Even 
though context clues may differ in strength, they are important to learn 
about, for they are useful tools to add to your Reading Strategy Toolbox to 
help you figure out word meanings and understand selections you read. 

Modeling. Next, Ms. Lee presents an excerpt from the science text- 
book on a transparency. She invites a student to read it aloud and then pro- 
ceeds to model the use of context clues. 

A single organization in an environment is called an individual. One grasshopper in 
a field is an individual. (Frank et al., 2002, p. B28) 

I’m looking at the word individual and trying to figure out what it means. I 
see that the author writes, “A single organization in an environment is 
called an individual,” so I guess that individual refers to or means just one 
living thing. This seems to be supported by the second sentence that says 
that “One grasshopper in a field is an individual.” These seem to be pretty 
good context clues. Could anyone look up individual in the dictionary? 
[Student finds “a single organism as distinguished from a group” 
(Merriam-Webster, 2002, p. 592).] All right; it seems as though our guess 
from the use of context was a good one. 

Ms. Lee then presents Chart 4, which tells about different kinds of con- 
text clues, and continues with her instruction and modeling. 

Could someone read number 1 on Chart 4? [Student reads the Definition 
entry.] See how brambles is defined as “prickly vines and shrubs” just like 
individual was defined as “a single organism in an environment.” So one 
type of context clue is Definition, in which an author explains the mean- 
ing of a word right in the sentences. 

Let’s look at the other context clue types. [Ms. Lee has students read the re- 
maining four types in Chart 4 and briefly discusses each.] Does anyone see 
another context clue type for individual ? [She refers students back to the 
transparency, and one student responds that there might be an Example 
context clue.] Yes, the second sentence, “One grasshopper in a field is an 
individual,” gives an example of an individual, in this case one individual 
grasshopper. So sometimes there might be more than one kind of context 
clue to help you out. 

Guided Practice. In the third part of the instructional framework, Ms. 
Lee invites students to use the context clue types to infer word meanings, 



Teaching Chart 4: CONTEXT CLUES 

Context Clue Type Example 

1 . Definition: the author 
explains the meaning of 
the word right in the 
sentence or selection. 

When Sara was hiking, she accidentally walked 
through a patch of brambles, prickly vines and 
shrubs, which resulted in many scratches to her 

2. Synonym: the author 
uses a word similar in 

Josh walked into the living room and 
accidentally tripped over the ottoman. Ele then 
mumbled “I wish people would not leave the 
footstool right in the middle of the room. That’s 

3. Antonym: the author 
uses a word nearly 
opposite in meaning. 

The supermarket manager complained, “Why 
do we have such a plethora of boxes of cereal 
on the shelves? In contrast, we have a real 
shortage of pancake and waffle mix. We’ve got to 
do a better job ordering.” 

4. Example: the author 
provides one or more 
example words or ideas. 

There are many members of the canine family. 
For example, wolves, foxes, coyotes, and pets such 
as collies, beagles, and golden retrievers are all 

5. General: the author 
provides several words or 
statements that give clues 
to the word’s meaning. 

It was a sultry day. The day was very hot and 
humid. If you moved at all, you would break out 
in a sweat. It was one of those days to drink water 
and stay in the shade. 

Note: Words in italic provide context clues for bold words. 

calling students’ attention to another textbook excerpt she has presented 
on a transparency: 

Individuals of the same kind living in the same environment make up a population. All 
the grasshoppers in a field are the grasshopper population. (Frank et al., 2002, p. B28). 

Look at the word population and see if you can find a context clue for it? 
[Student responds that there is a Definition clue.] Yes , population is defined 
as “individuals of the same kind living in the same environment.” Does 
anyone see another type of context clue? [Student responds that there is an 
Example context clue in the second sentence.] Yes, the author has given 
you Definition and Example context clues for population, just as the au- 
thor had done for individual. 

Now try to find and use context clues for the words instinct and learned be- 
haviors, which also come from your science textbook. [Ms. Lee displays the 
following transparency and distributes paper copies to the students.] On 
your paper copy, underline Definition and Example context clues that 
help you understand each word’s meaning. 



• Some behaviors are inherited and some are learned. An instinct is a behavior 
that an organism inherits. An instinct isn’t unique to an individual. Instead, it 
is a beha vior shared by an entire population, or by all the males or all the fe- 
males of a population. Herding aphids, for example, is an instinct for certain 
populations of ants. (Frank et al, 2002, p. B46) 

• Many animals show learned behaviors, which are behaviors they have learned 
from their parents, not inherited from them. Lions, for example, are born with 
the instinct to kill and eat other animals. To survive, however, young lions must 
learn hunting skills from adidt lions. Both the instinct to hunt and the learned 
behavior, skillful hunting, help the lion survive. (Frank etal., 2002, p. B46) 

Ms. Lee guides the students in their application of Definition and Exam- 
ple context clues to infer the meanings of instinct and learned behaviors. She 
provides support and reteaching as necessary. She also notes that some- 
times authors use commas to set off definitions, as in learned behaviors, and 
she makes a mental note to bring up the idea of Definition context clues and 
the linguistic device of appositive later during their writing workshop. 

Independent Practice. In her afternoon language arts period, Ms. Lee 
provides students an opportunity to practice the context clue strategy. She 
introduces Julie’s Wolf Pack (George, 1997), the story of a wolf pack in the 
Alaskan arctic. This book connects nicely with the science unit, for it in- 
cludes concepts such as food chains and the instinctual and learned behav- 
iors of animals. Ms. Lee has students read the first section of Julie’s Wolf 
Pack, which is titled “Kapu, The Alpha.” She writes alpha and beta on the 
board and asks students to use what they learned about context clues in the 
morning’s science lesson to see if they can figure what each word means 
(e.g., beta is in the context, “ . . . Zing — the beta, or second in command — en- 
joyed thejoke even more than Kapu....”; George, 1997, p. 4). She asks stu- 
dents to be prepared to discuss whether they found context clues in the 
book to help them figure out the meanings of alpha and beta. Ms. Lee plans 
additional lessons for teaching the other context clues types in conjunction 
with the science content and their reading of Julie’s Wolf Pack. 

Sample Lesson 4: Integrating the Use of Word-Part and Context Clues 

Background. Mr. Olson is a fifth-grade language arts teacher. He em- 
ploys various instructional structures in his language arts classes, one of 
which is literature circles (Daniels, 2002). Mr. Olson has identified seven re- 
alistic fiction and humorous titles from which the students will select books 
for the next round of literature circles. He plans to conduct briefbook talks 
and to allow the students to browse and preview the titles before they select 
books to read and form circles. 



Similar to the other teachers described in the preceding sample lessons, 
Mr. Olson has chosen to focus on vocabulary-learning strategies this aca- 
demic year. Previously, he completed lessons on word-part and context 
clues parallel to Sample Lessons 1-3. To extend this instruction, Mr. Olson 
wishes to emphasize how students can integrate the use of word-part and 
context clues as strategies for inferring or deriving word meanings. As a 
complement to the book talks he will do, Mr. Olson has prepared the fol- 
lowing lesson. 

Verbal Explanation. Mr. Olson begins by reviewing with students the 
content of the prior lessons on the use of word-part and context clues, em- 
phasizing how the two sources of information can be used together to try to 
determine the meanings of words: 

You have learned about The Vocabulary Rule [pointing to Chart 1 ]. This in- 
cludes three steps. [He reads and reviews how each step functions.] We have 
also learned how to use word-part clues and context clues [pointing to 
Charts 2 and 3, respectively] to help you figure out the meanings of new or 
hard words. [He reads and reviews briefly the information on these charts.] 

As we prepare today for our next set of literature circles, let’s use these 
strategies for figuring out word meanings. All of you will take on the role 
of word finder as one of your literature circle activities. You will identify 
new and interesting vocabulary in the books you choose to read. We will 
review how The Vocabulary Rule works, looking especially hard at how to 
combine the use of context clues and any word-part clues to determine 
word meanings. This should help you figure out the meanings of interest- 
ing words you come across as you read the books you select. 

Modeling. Mr. Olson models how to combine context clue and word- 
part information to determine word meanings, using one of the titles avail- 
able to students for the literature circles: 

One of the books you might choose to read is The Music of Dolphins by Ka- 
ren Hesse (1996). It’s a story of how a young girl, Mila, raised by dolphins, 
learns what it is like to live with humans. Here’s how the story begins when 
Mila is swimming with dolphins [excerpt presented on a transparency]. 

I swim out to them on the murmuring sea. As I reach them, their circle opens to let. me 
in, then re-forms. The dolphins rise and blow, floating, one eye open, the other shut in- 
half sleep. (Hesse, 1996, p.l) 

Let’s use The Vocabulary Rule to see if we can figure out what the word 
re-forms means. Step 1 says to look for context clues. Are there any avail- 
able? [Student says that “their circle opens to let me in” provides the idea 
that the circle opens and then closes back up ] All right; we get the idea 



that there’s this circle of dolphins, which opens up to let Mila in and then 
closes up. 

What about word-part clues, Step 2? [Student responds that re-forms has the 
root word forms and the prefix re-.} Yes. Does anyone know what the root 
word form or forms means, especially when it is showing action and is a 
verb as it is in this part of the story? [Student responds that it means to make 
or take shape as when the P.E. teacher says, “Class, form a big circle.”] Good. 
Now what about re-} What does it mean? [Student responds that it’s on 
Chart 3 and means again or back.] Now put the word parts together. [Stu- 
dent responds that re-forms might mean to form back, to form again, or to 
make the shape of a circle again.] 

Step 3 says to check the context again. Do the meanings for re-form you 
suggested make sense? [Students affirm that they do.] Yes, we get the idea 
that the dolphins are in a circle, which they open to let Mila in, and then 
they make the circle again, or re-form it, to enclose her in it. 

Guided Practice. Using the same text excerpt, Mr. Olson invites stu- 
dents to participate more in the application of The Vocabulary Rule. He 
also focuses on the flexible use of the strategy as well as its limits: 

Please examine the word murmuring in this same section. Can we use The 
Vocabulary Rule to help us figure out the meaning of it? [Mr. Olson guides 
students as they work through the rule, recognizing that there are not very 
strong context clues and no prefixes or suffixes that help identify its mean- 
ing.] Here’s a situation in which The Vocabulary Rule may not work very 
well. Does anyone have any guesses as to what murmuring means? [Stu- 
dents suggest words such as calm, wavy, dark green, and bubbling.] Those are 
good ideas, for all are adjectives that could describe how the sea might 
look or act. 

Does anyone know what the word murmur means? Could someone look in 
the dictionary? [Student looks up murmur and reads, “a low indistinct but of- 
ten continuous sound” and “a soft or gentle utterance” (Merriam-Webster, 
2002, p. 764).] Hmm. So it seems like murmur has to do with a sound, 
maybe a low, soft, and continuous sound. Would this make sense in the 
sentence I swim out to them on the murmuring sea} [Student responds that 
waves and water make sounds and that a writer might describe the sound of 
the sea as being low and continuous.] 

Here’s an example of where there are no prefixes or suffixes and the con- 
text clues only tell you that the word describes the sea. This is a good les- 
son when it comes to using context clues. Sometimes context clues are not 
strong, and in those cases, the best you can do is to make a general guess as 
to what a word means and read on to see if there might be more clues to 
come. If you are really curious about a word’s meaning or you think that 



the word is important to understanding a selection, then you might check 
a dictionary or thesaurus, ask a friend, or ask me. 

Independent Practice. Mr. Olson proceeds to conduct book talks on 
the additional books he has identified for possible literature circles. Follow- 
ing the book talks, he invites students to practice The Vocabulary Rule by 
using context and word-part clues (when applicable) to identify the mean- 
ings of incapable in The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 (Curtis, 1995, p. 
24), flailed in Bad Girls (Voigt, 1996, p. 35), inexhaustible in Knots in My Yo-yo 
String (Spinelli, 1998, p. 11), sensitivity in Later , Gator (Yep, 1995, p. 63), 
peevish in Cousins (Hamilton, 1990, p. 73), and improvise in Yellow Bird and 
Me (Hansen, 1986, p. 31). 

In subsequent vocabulary lessons, Mr. Olson reinforces the process of 
analyzing affixed words into meaningful parts, referring to Charts 2 and 
3, and the process of identifying different types of and combinations of 
context clues. He invites students to examine larger text segments as 
necessary to identify context clues that appear prior to and after an unfa- 
miliar word. He also reiterates the notion that context clues vary in 
power, and he reminds the students that some words may have mislead- 
ing or “pseudo” prefixes. After literature circles have been formed and 
initiated, Mr. Olson provides review of word-part and context clues as 
needed, while having students assume more responsibility for identify- 
ing and applying The Vocabulary Rule. 


We conclude this presentation with the acknowledgment of several impor- 
tant qualifications of and extensions to the ideas we present. First, one must 
keep in mind that there are other components to a comprehensive vocabu- 
lary instructional program beyond teaching the word-learning strategies of 
word-part and contextual analysis. For instance, if it were one’s goal to 
teach specific words in order to enhance comprehension of a given text, 
then word-part and contextual analysis are not efficient strategies; instead, 
one should teach those words directly (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002; 
Stahl & Fairbanks, 1 986). It is important, therefore, to recognize that differ- 
ent instructional goals require different teaching strategies, and a total vo- 
cabulary program ought to encompass multiple objectives and pedagogical 
perspectives (Baumann, Kame’enui, & Ash, 2003). We believe that Graves’s 
(2000) four components — engaging in wide reading, teaching individual 
words, teaching word-learning strategies, and fostering word conscious- 
ness — provide a useful framework for crafting a balanced, multifaceted vo- 
cabulary instructional program. 



Second, the instructional content we present would need to be expanded 
across time. For example, subsequent word-part instruction should move 
beyond simple root words (i.e., free morphemes), prefixes, and suffixes to 
include Latin and Greek word roots (e.g., vis, vid, light, to see, as in video, 
television, visible, preview, evidence, etc.). Templeton’s (2004) suggestions for 
promoting the “vocabulary-spelling connection” provide important ways 
to extend vocabulary instruction to more complex morphemic associations. 
Similarly, we refer readers to other excellent sources that address the limits 
to and place of instruction in context clues (Beck et al., 2002, chapter 6) and 
provide additional instructional strategies (e.g., Blachowicz & Fisher, 2002, 
chapter2; Durkin, 1981, chapter 2;Johnson& Pearson, 1978, chapter 6). 

Third, it is important to emphasize that, in practice, it would take more 
than four lessons to teach the various context clue types and word-part ele- 
ments in depth. Graves (2000), for example, suggests spending 2 to 4 hours 
a week during initial instruction in word-learning strategies, with decreas- 
ing time weekly later on. Effective instruction in word-part and context 
clues should be efficient but long-term (Graves, 2000), so that students can 
internalize the strategies and receive the support required to apply them 
across multiple contexts over time. On the other hand, it is important to 
keep word-part and context clue instruction “in its place,” that is, not dedi- 
cating inordinate amounts of time to such lessons. We believe that the ma- 
jority of language arts time should be spent on literature discussion and 
appreciation, and likewise most content lessons should involve subject mat- 
ter inquiry and study. 

Finally, we emphasize that the sample lessons are just that — exemplars 
from which teachers might develop their own lessons that match their stu- 
dents’ needs and their own instructional goals. Effective vocabulary instruc- 
tion is highly context-dependent. In other words, it is determined by a 
teacher’s judgment about her or his students’ knowledge, skills, and needs; 
by the nature of the specific reading, language arts, and subject-matter cur- 
riculum; and by a teacher’s unique teaching style. Thus, there is no 
one-size-fits-all set of lessons that can be constructed and implemented 
across countless teaching and learning situations. Quality vocabulary in- 
struction occurs ultimately when teachers who are knowledgeable in liter- 
acy processes, curriculum content and goals, and sound reading and 
language arts pedagogy craft their own vocabulary lessons that accommo- 
date their students’ unique learning needs. 


The research on which this chapter is based was supported by a Field-Initi- 
ated Study (PR/ AWARD NUMBER R305T990271) administered by the Na- 
tional Institute for Student Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment, of the 



Office of Educational Research and Improvement within the U.S. Depart- 
ment of Education. The research and practice suggestions expressed herein 
do not necessarily reflect the position or policies of the National Institute for 
Student Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment, the Office of Educa- 
tional Research and Improvement, or the U.S. Department of Education. 


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Choosing Words to Teach' 

Isabel L. Beck 
Margaret G. McKeown 
University of Pittsburgh 

Linda Kucan 

Appalachian State University 

The teacher’s edition for a fourth-grade anthology suggests teaching the 
following words before inviting students to read an excerpt from Char- 
lotte’s Web (White, 1952): comfort, cunning, endure, friendless, frolic, lonely, 
soaked, and stealthily. Why do you think these words were selected? One 
obvious reason for selecting words to teach is that students do not know 
the words. Although cunning, endure, frolic, and stealthily are probably un- 
familiar to most fourth graders, comfort, friendless, lonely, and soaked are 
probably not. Familiarity does not seem to be the principle used to make 
the selection. What about importance or usefulness? Are the selected 
words useful for writing or talking? Would the words be important to 
know because they appear in other texts with a high degree of frequency? 
Some — but not all — of the words might be considered useful or impor- 
tant. Thus, the question remains: why were the words selected? The pur- 

'At the Focus on Vocabulary Forum in Dallas in October 2003, Isabel Beck reported on a vo- 
cabulary study that she and her colleague Margaret McKeown had conducted in kindergarten 
and first-grade classrooms. Results of the study showed these very young children could learn, 
and relished learning, very sophisticated words, words that are not typically part of young chil- 
dren’s language experiences. Drs. Beck and McKeown are presently writing a journal article 
about the findings of that study. (continued.) 




pose of this chapter is to consider what principles might be used for 
selecting words to teach. 


As a way to begin thinking about which words to teach, consider that 
words in the language have different levels of utility. In this regard, we 
have found our notion of tiers to be one helpful lens through which to 
consider words for instructional attention. Tier One consists of the most 
basic words — clock, baby, happy — rarely requiring instruction in school. 
Tier Three includes words whose frequency of use is quite low, often be- 
ing limited to specific domains — isotope , lathe, peninsula — and probably 
best learned when needed in a content area. Tier Two words are 
high-frequency words for mature language users — coincidence, absurd, in- 
dustrious — and, thus, instruction in these words can add productively to 
an individual’s language ability. 


T o get an idea of the process of identifying Tier Two words, consider an ex- 
ample. Below is the opening paragraph of a retelling of an old tale 
(Kohnke, 2001, p. 12) about a donkey who is under a magical spell that 
forces him to do the chores for a group of lazy servants. The story would 
likely be of interest to third and fourth graders: 

Johnny Harrington was a kind master who treated his servants fairly. He was also a 
successful wool merchant, and his business required that he travel often. In his ab- 
sence, his servants would tend to the fields and cattle and maintain the upkeep of his 
mansion. They performed their duties happily, for they felt fortunate to have such a be- 
nevolent and trusting master. 

The underlined words are those we identified as consistent with the no- 
tion of Tier Two words. That is, most of the words are likely to appear fre- 
quently in a wide variety of texts and in the written and oral language of 
mature language users. (Note: We chose this paragraph because there were 

(continued) This chapter, “Choosing Words to Teach," is from Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. 
McKeown, and Linda Kucan’s Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (2002), re- 
printed with permission oFThe Guilford Press: New York. The chapter is relevant to discussions 
at the Focus on Vocabulary Forum about choosing words to teach and the value of teaching so- 
phisticated words. 



so many candidate Tier Two words; however, most grade-level material 
would not have so many words in only one paragraph.) 

One “test” of whether a word meets the Tier Two criterion of being a use- 
ful addition to students’ repertoires is to think about whether the students 
already have ways to express the concepts represented by the words. Would 
students be able to explain these words using words that are already well 
known to them? If that is the case, it suggests that the new words offer stu- 
dents more precise or mature ways of referring to ideas they already know 
about. One way to answer the question is to think about how average third 
and fourth graders would talk about the concepts represented by the Tier 
Two words. We think that students would be likely to offer the explanations 
shown here. 

Tier Two Words 








Students’ Likely Expressions 

Salesperson or clerk 

Have to 

Take care of 

Keep going 




Adding the 7 target words to young students’ vocabulary repertoires would 
seem to be quite productive, because learning the words would allow students 
to describe with greater specificity people and situations they already have 
some familiarity with. However, notice that these words are not simple syn- 
onyms of the familiar ones, but represent more precise or more complex forms 
of the familiar words. For example, maintain means more than “keep going,” 
but “to continue something in its present condition or at its present level.” Be- 
nevolent has the dimension of tolerance as well as kindness. 


The decision about which words to teach must also take into account how 
many words to teach in conjunction with any given text or lesson. Given that 
students are learning vocabulary in social studies and science as well as read- 
ing or language arts, there needs to be some basis for limiting the number of 
words so that students will have the opportunity to learn some words well. 



Consider which of the words will be most useful in helping students un- 
derstand it. For the seven words noted before, our thinking is that fortunate 
is particularly important because the fact that the servants thought they 
were lucky is an important condition of the story. Similarly, benevolent plays 
an important role in setting up the story, as the servants appreciate their 
master’s kindness, and they do not want to upset their pleasant living situa- 
tion. If one other word were to be selected, a good choice would be merchant. 
Merchant is a word that comes up in fourth- and fifth-grade social studies 
textbooks in discussions of colonization of the Americas (e.g., European 
merchants were eager to locate new resources like tobacco and indigo, which 
could be found in the colonies. Colonial merchants were dismayed by the 
taxes on English goods, which meant higher prices for their customers but 
no more profit for themselves.). 

The other candidate words, tend, required, performed, and maintain, are 
also words of strong general utility , and the choice of whether to include any 
more words is based solely on considering how many words one thinks stu- 
dents could usefully handle. 

You Try It 

Below is another excerpt from the tale about the donkey under the magical 
spell described earlier (Kohnke, 200 1 , p. 1 2). You might find it useful to try 
your hand at identifying Tier Two words. You will get to see our choices af- 
ter the excerpt, so that you can compare your selections with ours. 

The servants would never comment on this strange occurrence [finding the kitchen 
clean even though none of them were seen doing the cleaning.], each servant hoping 
the other had tended to the chores. Never would they mention the loud noises they’d 
hear emerging from the kitchen in the middle of the night. Nor would they admit to 
pulling the covers under their chins as they listened to the sound of haunting laughter 
that drifted down the halls to their bedrooms each night. In reality, they knew there was 
a more sinister reason behind their good fortune. 

Which words did you select? Trying to be all-inclusive, selecting any 
words that might fit Tier Two, we chose: comment, occurrence, tended, men- 
tion, emerging, admit, haunting, reality, sinister, and fortune. We considered 
them Tier Two words as we viewed them as fairly “general but sophisti- 
cated words.” That is, they are not the most basic, common ways of ex- 
pressing ideas, but they are familiar to mature language users as 
ordinary as opposed to specialized language. The concepts embodied in 
each word are ones that students already have some understanding of, as 
shown here. 



Tier Two Words 











Students’ Likely Expressions 

Something someone has to say 
Something happening 
Took care of 

Coming out 

To say you did something 

Being read 



N ow, the notion of tiers of words is not a precise one, andthelines between 
tiers are not clearcut, so your selection may not match ours. Thinking in 
terms of tiers is just a starting point — a way of framing the task of choosing 
candidate words for instruction. Even within Tier Two, some words will be 
more easily familiar and some will be more useful than others. For example, 
our hunch is that admit, reality, and fortune are likely known to most fourth or 
fifth graders; that tended is not usually used in a way that is key to understand- 
ing, and that fifth graders may already associate haunting with scary things — a 
Halloween context — which is fitting for this story. Thus we ended up with: 
comment, occurrence, mention, emerging, and sinister. We judged the first four of 
these to be most useful across a range of contexts, and we chose sinister be- 
cause it is a strong word with emotional impact that is used in literature to de- 
scribe fictional characters as well as in nonfiction, such as when describing a 
group’s sinister plans to invade another’s territory. 

Some Criteria for Identifying Tier Two Words 

Importance and Utility: words that are characteristic of mature language 
users and appear frequently across a variety of domains. 

Instructional Potential: words that can be worked with in a variety of ways 
so that students can build rich representations of them and of their connec- 
tions to other words and concepts. 

Conceptual Understanding: words for which students understand the gen- 
eral concept but provide precision and specificity in describing the concept. 


There is nothing scientific about the way words are identified for attention 
in school materials. Some words are obvious candidates, such as selecting 
the word representation for a social studies unit on the American Revolution- 



ary War era. But beyond the words that play major roles, choices about what 
specific set of words to teach are quite arbitrary. Teachers should feel free to 
use their best judgment, based on an understanding of their students’ 
needs, in selecting words to teach. They should also feel free to treat words 
in different ways. Tier Two words are not only words that are important for 
students to know, they are also words that can be worked with in a variety of 
ways so that students have opportunities to build rich representations of 
them and of their connections to other words and concepts. 

In many texts, however, there may be several unfamiliar words that do 
not meet the criteria for Tier Two words but which nevertheless require 
some attention if students are to understand a selection. Consider the fol- 
lowing excerpt from the short story “My Father, the Entomologist” (Ed- 
wards, 2001, p. 5): 

“Oh, Bea, you look as lovely as a longhorn beetle lifting off for flight. And I must admit 
your antennae are adorable. Yes, you’ve metamorphosed into a splendid young lady. ” 

Bea rolled her eyes and muttered, “My father, the entomologist. ” 

“I heard that, Bea. It’s not nice to mumble. Unless you want to be called a ... Mumble 
Bea!” Bea’s father slapped his knee and hooted. Bea rolled her eyes a second time. 

The first day of fifth grade, and my father tells me I look like a longhorn beetle. Bea 
shuddered at the thought. She absolutely detested bugs. 

Why does Dad have to be obsessed with insects ? She wondered. Why not football or golf 
like most fathers? The answer was simple. Bea’s dad was weird. His weirdness made 
the whole family weird. And he had made Bea the weirdest of all when he named her 
Bea Ursula Gentry ... B.U.G. 

Suddenly, Bea felt angry. She flew into the kitchen where her father sat reading 
Insectology. She hurled her backpack onto the table. 

“You know what, Dad?” she asked, tugging on one of her pigtails, “these are not an- 
tennae! Your bumper sticker, ‘Have you hugged a bug today?’ is not cool! And I de- 
spise eating in the dining room with all those dead bugs pinned to the walls!” 

With fourth- and fifth-grade students in mind, we have divided the 12 
underlined words from the story into the following three categories: 

longhorn beetle obsessed 

antennae detest 

metamorphosed despise 








The first column contains words that are important to the story, but that 
can be dealt with very quickly. Longhorn beetle does not call for atten- 
tion — students will understand it as a type of insect, and more knowledge is 
not needed to understand the story. 

Antennae and entomologist are needed to understand the situation the au- 
thor uses to set up the story, but the two words can be quickly described as 
“those things that stick out from an insect’s head” and “a scientist who stud- 
ies insects.” More precise information is not required for this selection. 

Metamorphosed can be explained as simply changed or grown, but to get 
the humor intended here, the information needs to be given that it is the 
type of change that certain insects go through, such as when a caterpillar 
changes into a butterfly. But, again, no more precision is required, and it is 
not the place to go through the elaborate explanation about the process or 
how it occurs. This should occur in a science unit about insects. 

The words in the next two columns have more general applications and 
are consistent with Tier Two words. The words in the second column — ob- 
sessed, detest, and despise — are most substantively related to the plot of the 
story, which is about a father who is obsessed with bugs and his daughter 
who detests and despises them. Detest and despise create a kind of “two-fer” 
situation, in that they are very close synonyms that could be introduced to- 
gether and used interchangeably. 

The rest of the words do not play key roles in the story, nor is their unfa- 
miliarity likely to interfere with comprehension. So, which other words are 
attended to, if any, is simply a matter of choice and convenience. That is, a 
decision as to number of words taught might be made on the basis of how 
many a teacher wants to make room for at the moment. Factors in this deci- 
sion may include, for example, how large the current vocabulary load is in 
the classroom, the time of year, and the number and difficulty of other con- 
cepts presently being dealt with in the curriculum. 

Assume that there is room for several more words from this story. It 
might be convenient to teach splendid and shuddered, because they could take 
advantage of concepts already established for the story. Shuddered fits well, 
as something that is detested might well make one shudder. Splendid is also 
a good fit, as in: “Bea’s dad thinks bugs are splendid, but Bea detests them.” 
Or “If you’re obsessed about something, you might think it’s splendid.” 
These two words would also be favored because they have a bit more dimen- 
sion to them than mumble, muttered, or hurl. This is not to say that mumble, 
muttered, or hurl should not be taught, but simply that, presented with the 
choice of words to work with, splendid and shuddered seem to lend themselves 
to a wider diversity of possible uses. 




Now let us consider a text that does not seem to offer much for vocabulary 
development because all of the words in the text are familiar to students. An 
approach in such a case could be selecting words whose concepts fit in with 
the story even though the words do not appear. For example, if the story 
features a character who is a loner, introduce the words hermit, isolated, or 
solitary, if a problem is dealt with, present it as a dilemma or conflict-, if a char- 
acter is hard-working, consider if she is diligent and conscientious. Think in 
terms of words that coordinate with, expand, or play off of words, situations, 
or characters in a text. 

Bringing in words whose concepts fit with a story is especially salient 
when young children are just learning to read, and there are only the sim- 
plest words in their text. Consider a story in which two children (Pam and 
Matt) tiy on a number silly hats, some of which are very big, and two of 
which are exactly alike. A number of words came to mind, and we chose, ab- 
surd, enormous, and identical. We suggest how those words might be intro- 
duced to young children. 

• In the story, Pam and Matt had very, very silly hats. Another way to 
say that something is very, very silly is to say that it is absurd. When some- 
thing is absurd, it is so silly it’s hard to believe. 

• Some of the hats that Pam and Matt wore were so big that all you 
could see were their feet. Another way to say that something is very, very 
big is to say that it is enormous. Enormous, means “very big — very, very big.” 

• Pam and Matt put on red hats that were almost exactly alike. A way 
to say that two things are exactly alike is to say that they are identical. 
Identical means “exactly alike.” 

Words do not need to be completely unfamiliar to students in order to be 
good candidates for instructional attention. Words might be selected for at- 
tention that may be familiar to students but that illustrate the power of an 
author’s choice of words to reveal information about a character or situa- 
tion. For example, notice the underlined words in the following excerpt, 
which is taken from a sixth-grade unit on Egypt (Banks et al., 1997, p. 87). 
The topic is Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh. 


Hatshepsut was a princess and the wife of a pharaoh. She seized the chance to become 
pharaoh herself when her husband died. Her young stepson was supposed to become 
the new pharaoh of Egypt. Hatshepsut proclaimed, however, that the ten-year-old boy 
was too young to rule on his own. In this way she succeeded in being named co-ruler. 



Hatshepsut’s Tradingjourney 

In the eighth year of her reign, Hatshepsut organized the biggest trading expedition of 
her career. An expedition is a group of people who go on a trip for a set reason. The 
goal of Hatshepsut’s expedition was to trade with Egypt’s neighbors to the south in 
Punt. Historians think Punt may have been in what is today Ethiopia or Somalia. . . . 

The huge caravan of scribes, soldiers, artists, and attendants set off along a dusty road 
that led east to the Red Sea. There they loaded their cargo onto five sleek ships for the 
long journey south. 

The only word identified for attention by the publisher in this segment is 
expedition, which is explained within the text. The two underlined words — 
seized and sleek — offer possibilities for drawing students’ attention to the ef- 
fect of an author’s choice of words and help the topic come alive. 

That Hatshepsut “seized” the chance to become pharaoh reveals some- 
thing about her character that would make for interesting discussion. For 
example: “It says that Hatshepsut seized the chance to become pharaoh. 
Seize means ‘to grab something or take control of it firmly.’ So, what does 
that tell us about Hatshepsut? Was she afraid of being pharaoh? Do you 
think she was eager to become a ruler?” 

Similarly, that the expedition sailed off in “sleek” ships communicates the 
prosperity and style of the Egyptian civilization. Discussion could prompt 
thinking in that direction: “Sleek is a word used to describe something grace- 
ful and stylish, that marks its owner as well-to-do. ‘They sailed off in sleek 
ships.’ What picture does that give us of Egypt?” Additionally, words like am- 
bitious and calculating could be introduced to characterize Hatshepsut. 


The examples provided thus far were drawn from texts for readers in the in- 
termediate grades. Although the same principles apply to selecting words 
from texts for students in the upper grades, they may play out a bit differ- 
ently. Thus, we present a discussion of the words that might be selected for 
Agatha Christie’s “In a Glass Darkly” ( 1 934), a story that is likely to be of in- 
terest to students in eighth or ninth grade. It is a rather brooding tale that 
moves from a murderous premonition to unrequited love, jealousy, and 
near tragedy before resolving happily. The story begins as the narrator, 
while staying with a friend, sees a vision of a man strangling a woman. The 
woman turns out to be his friend’s sister, with whom he falls in love. But she 
is engaged — to the man he saw in his vision. He tells her of the vision, and 
she breaks her engagement. For years, the narrator is unable to tell her of 
his feelings for her. Finally, love is revealed and they marry. But he is deeply 
jealous, a feeling that results in his nearly strangling his wife — until he no- 
tices in the mirror that he is playing out the scene of his premonition. 



The language of the story is sophisticated but not particularly difficult. 
Most words will likely be at least passingly familiar to many readers in 
eighth or ninth grade. However, many of the words are probably not of high 
frequency in the students’ vocabularies, and, thus, an opportunity presents 
itself for students to work with these words and gain fluency with them. 
Here are the 30 words from the story that we identified as Tier Two words: 































Of the 30 words, we decided to focus on 1 0 of them: essential, altered, well-off, 
devoted, entrenched, inevitable, sobering, revelation, upshot, and disinterested. 

Ten words may be a lot to develop effectively for one story, but we see it as 
a workable number because many of them will already be familiar. Also, two 
of the words could be introduced rather briefly with little or no follow-up 
work. These are: altered, which could be defined simply as “permanently 
changed,” and well-off, which could simply be given the synonym wealthy. 
The reason for attention to these two words is that they could cause confu- 
sion at the local level in the story if not understood. 

Two other words were also chosen because they could cause confusion in a 
part of the story. These are upshot and disinterested. The narrator talks of the 
upshot of his decision to tell Sylvia that he saw a vision of her fiance choking 
her. Because of the context and feel of the story, we thought upshot might be 
interpreted as some sort of physical violence, instead of simply “the result of.” 
The word disinterested meaning “not being involved in a particular situation” 
is often confused with uninterested, meaning “not interested,” and the story 
provides a good opportunity to introduce that distinction. 

Five words seem to convey the mood and emotional impact of story de- 
velopments: devoted, entrenched, inevitable, sobering, and revelation. And the 
word essential was chosen because “one essential detail” turns out to be a 
key plot device — that is, in his premonition, the narrator notices a scar on 
the left side of the choker’s face. The essential detail he fails to account for 
is that he is seeing this in a mirror, so the scar is actually on the right. The 



five words can be used to describe the plot as follows: The narrator is de- 
voted to Sylvia, although entrenched in a jealousy that causes inevitable prob- 
lems. Only a sobering revelation (that essential detail) saves him, his 
marriage, and his wife. 

A couple of points should be emphasized here. The words were selected 
not so much because they are essential to comprehension of the story, but 
because they seem most closely integral to the mood and plot. In this way, 
the vocabulary work provides for both learning new words and for enrich- 
ing understanding of literature. This decision was made possible because 
there was a large pool of words to choose from. Sometimes choices are more 
limited, and sometimes the best words are not so tied to the story. In such 
cases, a decision might be made to select words that seem most productive 
for vocabulary development despite their role in the story. 

For the six words we consider to be most important to teach, some char- 
acteristics of the words themselves also drove our selections. Sobering was se- 
lected because its strongest sense for students might be as the opposite of 
drunk. So, the context of the story provides a good opportunity to over- 
come that and introduce its more general sense. The others, essential, de- 
voted, entrenched, inevitable, and revelation, have wide potential for use, and 
are not limited to specific situations or stereotypic contexts. Yet, they seem 
to be strongly expressive words that can bring emotional impact to contexts 
in which they are used. 


We turn now to selecting words to enhance the vocabulary repertoires of 
young children — those who are just learning to read. We make two immedi- 
ate distinctions between vocabulary work with intermediate and older stu- 
dents and work with students in the earliest grades, typically kindergarten 
through early second grade. The first is that we find the best sources for new 
vocabulary are tradebooks that teachers read aloud to children rather than 
the books children read on their own. The second distinction is that in con- 
trast to introducing words before a story, in our work with young children 
we have found it most appropriate to engage in vocabulary activities after a 
story has been read. 

There are two reasons we decided that vocabulary activities for young 
children should occur after a story. First, if a word is needed for compre- 
hension, inasmuch as the teacher is reading the story, she is available to 
briefly explain the word at the point in the story where it is needed (e.g., 
“A ukulele is a kind of guitar.” “When ducks molt, they lose their feathers 
and can’t fly until new ones grow.”). Second, because the words that will 
be singled out for vocabulary attention are words that are very likely un- 
familiar to young children, the context from the story provides a rich ex- 



ample of the word’s use and thus strong support for children’s initial 
learning of the word. 

The basis for selecting words from tradebooks for young children is that 
they are Tier Two words and words that are not too difficult to explain to 
young children. Here, we present our thinking for selecting three words for 
instructional attention from The Popcorn Dragon (Thayer, 1 953), a story tar- 
geted to kindergartners. 

In our review of The Popcorn Dragon for Tier Two candidate words, we 
first identified the following seven: accidentally, drowsy, pranced, scorched, en- 
vious, delighted, and forlorn. From the pool of seven, we decided to provide 
instruction for three: envious, delighted, and forlorn. We considered three is- 
sues in making our choices. First, we determined that the concept repre- 
sented by each word was understandable to kindergartners. That is, 
five-year-olds understand: wanting something someone else has (envious); 
being very happy (delighted), and being very sad (forlorn ). Second, it is not 
too difficult to explain the meanings of those words in very simple lan- 
guage, as illustrated in the previous sentence! And third, each word has ex- 
tensive possibilities for use. In particular, the words are found in numerous 
fairy tales. That is, there is often some character who is envious of another, 
and characters who are delighted or forlorn about the turn of events. The 
words, however, are not restricted to make-believe; they can all be used in 
describing people in common situations. 

We found the other candidate words — pranced, accidentally, scorched, and 
drowsy — interesting and potentially useful, but, relative to the words we 
chose, we saw scorched and pranced as narrower, and drowsy and accidentally as 
not quite so interesting as the ones we chose. We hasten to make the point 
that this is all a matter of judgment. The final decisions about which words 
to teach may not be as important as thoughtful consideration about why to 
teach certain words and not others. 


A concern that surfaces in deciding which words to teach is whether words 
are appropriate for students at certain grade levels. Key to this concern is to 
understand that no formula exists for selecting age-appropriate vocabulary 
words despite lists that identify “fifth-grade words” or “seventh-grade 
words.” There is simply no basis for determining which words students 
should be learning at different grade levels. For example, that coincidence is 
an “eighth-grade word” according to a frequency index means only that 
most students do not know the word until eighth grade. It does not mean 
that students in seventh or even third grade cannot learn the word or 
should not be taught it. 



There are only two things that make a word inappropriate for a certain 
level. One is not being able to explain the meaning of a word in known 
terms. If the words used to explain a target word are likely unknown to the 
students, then the word is too hard. 

The other consideration for word selection is that the words be useful 
and interesting — ones that students will be able to find uses for in their ev- 
eryday lives. Of course, this is a matter of judgment, best decided by those 
who know the individual students. Work we have done with kindergarten 
and first-grade children shows that sophisticated words can be successfully 
taught to young children. 

For example, kindergartners readily applied nuisance to disruptive class- 
mates, and identified when a commotion occurred in the hall. First graders 
could easily discern argumentative peers from those who acted dignified! 


In evaluating words as possible candidates for instruction, here are three 
things to keep in mind: 

1. How generally useful is the word? Is it a word that students are 
likely to meet often in other texts? Will it be of use to students in de- 
scribing their own experiences? For example, students are likely to 
find more situations in which to apply typical and dread than portage 
and brackish. 

2. How does the word relate to other words, to ideas that students 
know or have been learning? Does it directly relate to some topic of study 
in the classroom? Or might it add a dimension to ideas that have been de- 
veloped? For example, what might knowing the word hubris bring to a 
middle school student’s understanding of the battles at Lexington and 
Concord, which set the Revolutionary War in motion? 

3. What does the word bring to a text or situation? What role does the 
word play in communicating the meaning of the context in which it is 
used? A word’s meaning might be necessary for understanding a text. Or 
understanding its meaning might allow an enriched insight about the sit- 
uation being presented, such as in the case of Hatshepsut’s seizing power 
and riding in sleek ships. 

Keep in mind that there is no formula for selecting age-appropriate vo- 
cabulary words despite lists that identify “fifth-grade words” or “sev- 
enth-grade words.” As long as the word can be explained in known words 
and can apply to what students might talk or write about, it is an appropri- 
ate word to teach. 



Your Turn 

We invite you to use what you have learned in this chapter to make some de- 
cisions about which words you will teach. 

1 . Select a text that your students will be reading. It can be a story, or an 
excerpt from a chapter book or novel, or a social studies textbook. 

2. List all the words that are likely to be unfamiliar to students. 

3. Analyze the word list. 

• Which words can be categorized as Tier Two words? 

• Which of the Tier Two words are most necessary for comprehension? 

• Are there other words needed for comprehension? Which ones? 

4. On the basis of your analysis, which words will you teach? 

• Which will need only brief attention? 

• Which will you give more elaborate attention to? 


Banks, J. A., Beyer, B. K., Contreras, G., Craven, J., Ladson-Billings, G., McFarland, 
M. A., & Parker, S. C. (1997). World: Adventures in time and place. New York: 

Christie, A. (1934). In a glass darkly. In L. Mountain, S. Crawley, & E. Fry (Eds.), 
Jamestown Heritage Readers (Book H, pp. 160-167). Providence, RI: Jamestown 

Edwards, A. (2001). My father, the entomologist. Cricket, 28{ 10), 5-9. 

Kohnke, J. M. (2001). The pooka of allihies. Cricket, 28(7), 12-16. 

Thayer, J. (1953). The popcorn dragon. New York: Morrow. 

White, E. B. (1952). Charlotte’s web. New York: Harper & Row. 


Size and Sequence 

in Vocabulary Development: 

Implications for Choosing Words for Primary 
Grade Vocabulary Instruction 

Andrew Biemiller 
University of Toronto 

The importance of English vocabulary for success in English-speaking 
schools cannot be overestimated. The authors of the National Reading Panel 
(2000) wrote: “Benefits in understanding text by applying letter-sound cor- 
respondences to printed material come about only if the target word is in the 
learner’s oral vocabulary, (ch. 4, p. 3)” Chall, a well-known reading scholar, 
argued that written vocabulary test was effectively equivalent to reading com- 
prehension testing because the correlation between the two was so high (at 
r = .95 in my own studies), that it is not necessary to test comprehension. 
Hazenberg and Hulstijn (1996) reported that children with vocabularies of 
less than 11,000 root words were unable to succeed in college programs. 
(They noted that this study was done in the Netherlands, and that somewhat 
higher vocabularies would probably be needed in English.) 

A simple example from my own research illustrates the relationship be- 
tween basic reading skills and vocabulary. When we (Biemiller & Slonim, 
2001) conducted our second normative study, we included a simple test of 
oral reading of 60 words after orally testing vocabulary meanings of the same 
words. We found that from Grade 3 on, 95% of children could read more 
words than they could define. Figure 11.1 illustrates this relationship. One re- 






















Proportion of words known orally 

FIG. 11.1. Defining versus reading words, Grades 3-6. 

gression line in the figure simply shows the level of vocabulary known. The 
other regression line shows accuracy in reading the words tested for vocabu- 
lary. Although the number of words read correctly was correlated with the 
number of words defined (r = .45, N = 92), after Grade 2, most children 
could read more words than they could explain. The average difference was 
25% to 30% more words read correctly than understood (see Table 11.1). 

In another study (Biemiller, 1999), I found a correlation ofr = .81 (68% 
of variance) between vocabulary size and reading comprehension (Cana- 
dian Test of Basic Skills) across Grades 1-5. Adding grade level to the equa- 
tion brings the equation to r = .86 (74%). Thus grade adds 6% of reading 
comprehension variance, slightly affecting comprehension performance 
over and above that predicted by vocabulary, but not very much. 

These findings make it not surprising that whereas identifying words in 
print in first grade was not predictive of reading comprehension many years 



TABLE 11.1 

Mean Percentages of Correctly Explaining and Correctly Reading Words 
and Difference Between Them, by Grade (Standard Deviations in Parentheses) 





Read Vocabulary 





37% (11%) 

44 (25) 





63 (18) 

24 (16) 



44 (9) 

70 (16) 




49 (8) 


30 (14) 




84 (8) 

30 (11) 

later in Grade 1 1, orally tested vocabulary in first grade was correlated r = .55 
with much later reading comprehension (Cunningham 8c Stanovich, 1997). 
Numerous other studies show the importance of vocabulary for oral and 
reading comprehension during the elementary years (Dickinson et al, 
2003; Scarborough, 2001). In fact, many more children become “compe- 
tent readers” in the sense of word recognition than become “competent 
readers” in the sense of understanding grade-level reading content. 

In this chapter, 1 will be discussing the number of root word meanings 
children need to acquire to become competent readers. I will be empha- 
sizing the fact that words are learned largely in the same order — even 
when different populations (e.g., advantaged, English Second Language) 
and varying methods of assessing vocabulary are used. I will then discuss 
the practical implications for vocabulary instruction, particularly in the 
primary grades. 


How large a vocabulary must a child acquire? If we consider all words — 
meaning all the varied forms of words — plural, singular, past or present 
tense, not to mention affixes (e.g. preterm, doable) — the number of 
words children deal with is very large. However, as Anglin (1993) has 
shown, the number of “derived” words using affixes, compound words, 
etc. is 3 times the number of “root” words known in Grade 1 . By Grade 5, 
this ratio increases to 5 times as many derived words and idioms as root 
words. Nagy and Scott (2001) concur with Anglin’s estimates of number 
of root words acquired. 

My view is that by and large, “derived words” can be known when en- 
countered or derived from context, as long as the root words and affixes are 
known. Teaching affixes — e.g., pre- or -able — typically occurs in the upper 



elementary grades. (A list of commonly used affixes and an effective instruc- 
tional approach are described in White, Power, Sc White, 1989). Many af- 
fixes are understood at earlier ages. One illustration of this conclusion can 
be found in Dale and O'Rourke’s Living Word Vocabulary, in which about 
half of a sample of 100 derived words were reported acquired at the same 
grade level as the root words. Many of the other derived words were ac- 
quired shortly afterwards (N. Slonim, unpublished research). Thus what is 
crucial is learning root word meanings. 

How many root words are learned? I present here updated estimates 
of the number of root word meanings learned. (Table 1 1 .2) The updated 
numbers of words differ slightly from those reported in Biemiller & 
Slonim (2001). 1 For practical purposes, I estimate that the average num- 
ber of root word meanings is about 6,000 at the end of Grade 2, increas- 

TABLE 11.2 

Revised Estimates of Vocabulary* 

LWV Level 








Number of words 
At LWV level 

























































Note a. These vocabulary estimates are based on the known number of root words at each 
level of the Living Word Vocabulary, the observed percentage number of words at the level in each 
form, and adjustments of a reduction of 1 5% based on overall observed redundant word mean- 
ing entries, and an increase of 1 0% to 25% based on data from Anglin ( 1 993) which yields an esti- 
mate of words not in the Living Word . . . but which are known by some children at that grade level . 
Results are based on averages from data in studies 1 and 3 of Biemiller & Slonim, 200 1 . 

Note b. This estimate is probably low. Below Grade 2, many words can apparently not be 

Note c. This is probably on overestimate. The overall data suggests an increase from out 
6,000 words at Grade 2 to 10,000 at the end of Grade 6. 

'This is because we now have a complete count of root word meanings among the 30,000 
entries known by Grade 12. Previously we had estimated the number of words at each level. 



ing by 1,000 a year to 10,000 at the end of Grade 6. Prior to grade 3, 
children gained an average of 860 words a year. These numbers are 
slightly higher than Anglin’s (1993) results, but the magnitude of yearly 
gains are about the same. Nagy now agrees with these estimates (Nagy & 
Scott, 2001). 

Of course, many children gain words at higher or lower rates, especially 
before Grade 3. Slonim’s and my study showed that in Grade 2, the average 
number of root word meanings known by children in the lowest vocabu- 
lary quartile was about 4,000, whereas the average for children in the 
highest quartile was about 8,000. Thus by the end of Grade 2, children in 
the lowest quartile had vocabularies of about the same size as average chil- 
dren had in kindergarten. This gap is normally simply not filled in 
later — at least during the elementary years. Instead, at best the lowest 
quartile children remain about 2 years behind average children 
(cross-sectional data). 

Little is done in primary classrooms to address this vocabulary gap. Al- 
though some words are taught — perhaps 100 or 200 word meanings per 
year in primary grades — the low vocabulary children are starting kinder- 
garten with smaller vocabularies, and continue to acquire new word mean- 
ings at a lower rate than the average or advantaged groups of children. I 
roughly estimate that lower-quartile children begin kindergarten with 
1,000 fewer word meanings than average children, and continue to ac- 
quire fewerwords during the primary grades so that by the end of Grade 2, 
they have 2,000 fewer words. At the very least, it would seem desirable to 
prevent these further decrements during the primary school years. Fur- 
thermore, I and others have evidence that at least 2 word meanings a day 
can be taught and retained (Bieiniller, 2003; Elley, 1989; Senechal, 1997; 
Senechal et al, 1995) by children in kindergarten to Grade 2 children. 
This would be sufficient to make up 1,000 word meanings in 3 years dur- 
ing school days. At this rate, children would at least not fall further be- 
hind! However, before adopting a vocabulary program, we need to 
determine what word meanings should be taught. 


My conclusions are based largely on research that I and my graduate stu- 
dents conducted. Basically, we read a sentence to a child and ask the child 
the meaning of one word in the sentence. For example, we might say to a 
child, “John got his math work done quickly. What does math mean?" Using this 
method, we found evidence of the reliability of our methods and for a 
well-defined sequence of word acquisition: 



Children’s Achievement on Two Different Forms 
of the Root Word Inventory. 

Children who took two different forms of our Root Word Inventory (with 
different words) scored very similarly on both tests. The correlation be- 
tween children’s scores on these test forms was r = .88 across 126 Grade 1-5 
children (Biemiller 8c Slonim, 2001). 

Use of Different Context Sentences 
to Assess the Same Root Word Meaning 

In an unpublished study, we examined the use of different context sen- 
tences for the same word. This involved 58 words from our “form B” 
(Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). Procedures were the same as the Biemiller & 
Slonim study 3. For this comparison, we determined average scores for 
each word with each sentence in a sample of grade 1 to Grade 4 children. 
Data was collected in the same laboratory school, with data taken 3 years 
apart. The correlation for word means from the two forms was r = .87 
(N = 58). Means for grades were reasonably similar (Table 1 1 .3). 

Word Order with Normative, Advantaged, and ESL Children 

The Biemiller & Slonim (2001 ) study reported results for both normative 
and advantaged populations. The average correlation between word 
means (from Grades 1, 2, 4, and 5) was r - .94 for the two test forms. We 
conducted a subsequent unpublished study with 82 Grade 5 and 6 chil- 
dren in a school where 95% do not speak English at home (drawn from 
many different ethnicities). The methodology was the same as that used in 
Biemiller & Slonim (2001), study 1. The correlation between average 
word means for ESL Grade 5 and 6 children was correlated r = .91 with 
word means for advantaged children 

TABLE 11.3 

Percentage Correct Means for Alternate Forms B1 and B2 
by Grade (Advantaged Population) 


Form B1 

Form B2 















Context Sentences: Open-ended Versus Multiple-Choice Methods 

In one study, I compared our standard context-sentence method (writ- 
ten version) with multiple choice responses (Biemiller, 1998). Word 
meanings sampled from Living Word Vocabulary levels 4, 6, and 8 were 
used. Two cohorts were used in each class such that all children had both 
open-ended and multiple choice tests, and all words in the study were 
tested both ways. Children from an advantaged population (university 
laboratory school) and from an ESL population participated in this study 
in Grades 3, 5, and 6. 

Individual children’s scores on multiple choice and open-ended tests 
were correlated r = .8 1 with grade controlled. Test scores using multiple 
choice were higher than test scores using open-ended (in which children 
had to write the meaning of a word as presented in a sentence). Table 
1 1 .4 shows these results. Not surprisingly, the ESL Grade 6 children had 
results similar to Grade 3 advantaged children on both multiple choice 
and open-ended tests. In general, on harder words for younger children 
there was a larger difference between multiple-choice performance and 
open-ended performance. I suspect that children who cannot provide 
plausible meanings for root words will have difficulty understanding 
texts with those words, at least when the word is central to the text. Thus 
my best guess is that multiple-choice results may overestimate children’s 
effective vocabulary. 

TABLE 11.4 

Mean Percentages of 4th, 6th, and 8th Grade Vocabulary Items Passed 
on Multiple Choice and Open-Ended Tests by Student Background 

Grade and Word Level 

Grade 3 Grade 5 Grade 6 

(n) 4 th 6th 8th 

% words defined correctly: 

ESL Population 

multiple choice (19) 76 40 42 

open-ended (written) (17) 44 27 11 

Advantaged Population 

multiple choice (21) 88 71 67 

open-ended (written) (20) 76 60 44 

(n) 4th 6th 8th (n) 4th 6th 8th 

(20) 76 52 60 (25) 89 77 71 

(20) 60 32 17 (25) 82 58 37 

(19) 93 76 75 (21) 93 85 78 

(21) 85 70 46 (20) 87 74 59 



Assessing Vocabulary With Context Sentences 
Versus Multiple-Choice Pictures (PPVT) 

In another study, Boote and I contrasted our context-sentence method with 
the standard Peabody Picture Vocabulary procedure (Biemiller & Boote, 
submitted). We were especially interested in Sentence versus Picture test- 
ing. Our context-sentence method tends to underestimate vocabulary be- 
low Grade 2, and we wished to see if a picture vocabulary test would show 
knowledge of more words. 

In this study, we contrasted a short form (20 items) of Form B of our Root 
Word Vocabulary with 20 pictured items from the Peabody and 20 context 
sentence Peabody items. All children encountered both picture test items 
and context sentence items. However, there were two cohorts of children in 
each grade so some children were tested on particular words with pictures 
while others were tested on the same words with context sentences. Vocabu- 
lary levels measured all three ways were highly correlated. The correlation 
between means for word meanings assessed with Peabody Pictures and the 
same words with assessed with context sentences was r = .76, whereas corre- 
lations with children’s vocabulary assessed with a short form of our Root 
Word Inventory were r = .79 for picture vocabulary and .86 for context sen- 
tence vocabulary. Children’s scores on all three measures were highly corre- 
lated with reading comprehension (Canadian Test of Basic Skills) ranging 
from r = .72 for PPVT and reading comprehension to r = .81 for Root 
Word Inventory and reading comprehension. 

Figure 11.2 shows the growth of word knowledge as assessed with differ- 
ent methods. (We included only items between 20% and 80% on the Pea- 
body Picture Vocabulary as there were many “floor” and “ceiling” items 
which blurred results.) In this Figure, readers can see that in kindergarten 
and Grade 1 , children scored considerably higher using Peabody pictured 
items than when the same items were presented in sentences. From Grade 2 
on, the difference between the two methods is considerably smaller. 

Summary: Reliability of Word Order Data. 

The information summarized here indicates that findings of a robust order 
for word acquisition is reliable and not explicable through details of testing. 
The implications of this order of word-meaning acquisition are examined 
in the next section. 


Words tested in our research were sampled from 17,500 root word mean- 
ings reported known by children in Grade 1 2 or lower in Dale & O’Rourke’s 







FIG. 11.2. Knowledge of word meanings assessed with pictures, sentences, and 
Root Word Inventory. (For this graph, only words known between 20% and 80% 
on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test were used.) 

Living Word Vocabulary (1981). Words can be ordered by how well they are 
known on average by Grade 1 to Grade 5 children. As the order of rootword 
means is highly correlated between each grade, it is possible to consider 
words in the first decile ( 1 ,750 words) as those best known by most children. 
Conversely, those in the tenth decile are little known (2%) by any children in 
elementary school. We are then able to look at how well children know 
words from each decile of words. Combining data from our two normative 
samples, we have 1 1 or 1 2 words from each decile. 

Achievement groups were based on overall performance on our vocabu- 
lary tests: 0% to 10%, 1 1% to 20%, etc. Children from different grades could 
be included in the same achievement group. Mean scores for each of these 
groups of words were calculated for each ability group of children. 

Evidence can be seen in Fig. 1 1.3 that words are learned in a roughly 
fixed order, and that at any given level of overall word knowledge, there are 
two or three deciles of root words at the 30% to 70% correct range. The 
groups of children knowing only 3% to 10% and 1 1% to 20% of all words in 
the test mainly knew words from the first two or three sets of words (from the 

















123456789 10 






GRP 15 


Word Decile Group 

FIG. 11.3. Words from different difficulty levels by children of different vocabu- 
lary size. 

best-known decile, the second best known decile, and so on.) The group 
with knowledge of 45 percent of words overall knew over 70% of words in 
the first four deciles of words. Those knowing 55% or 65% of word mean- 
ings knew over 70% of the first five or six deciles of words respectively. Over- 
all, these descriptive data strongly suggest that children are acquiring 
vocabulary in a relatively predictable order. 

The existence of a strong order in which words are acquired means that 
“individual differences” are in, fact, mainly “developmental differences.” I 
do not mean that differences between children must be determined by con- 
stitutional maturation. However, when children have reached a vocabulary of 
a given size (whether they are in Grade 2, 4, or 6), they are likely know certain 
word meanings, be learning other identifiable word meanings, while still 
other meanings will be unlikely to be learned at this vocabulary level. 

The Fallacy of Grade-Level Vocabulary 

There is a large difference in the number of words particular children in the 
same grade have acquired. We tend to talk of words “learned at Grade 1” or 
words “learned in kindergarten.” In fact, although children’s vocabulary 



follows an identifiable sequence, that sequence is defined by children’s vo- 
cabulary size, rather than by grade. Table 1 1 .5 shows rough spreads of vo- 
cabulary among children from different grades. For example, in Grade 2, 
about 30% of children scored below the modal Grade 2 level vocabulary 
range of 5,000 to 7,000 root word meanings. (This represented 30% to 40% 
of our corpus of 17,500 words known by Grade 12.) Similarly, about 40% of 
Grade 2 children achieved above the modal Grade 2 level. 

Many of these words were also known by some children in Grades 1 or 
younger or Grade 3 or older. Thus it is misleading to refer to them simply as 
“Grade 2” words. We can better think of them as a group of words to be em- 
phasized in the primary grades, rather than specifically in Grade 2. 

Is Sequence Important? 

We do not know why words are learned in approximately the same order, 
whether being learned at age 7 or 10. However, inasmuch as this order 
holds, it seems likely that children really need to learn words in the ob- 
served order. Although some words are doubtless not crucial either to vo- 
cabulary order or general understanding of our world (e.g., oar, canoe), 
others are probably necessary for explaining words further up the se- 

TABLE 11.5 

Normative Population: Percentage of Vocabulary 
Achievement Group by Grade (Combined Forms) 



Estimated Vocabulary Group “ 


















43 (100%) 









gr. 1 

37 (100%) 









gr. 2 

49 (100%) 









gr. 3 

29 (100%) 










41 (100%) 









gr.5 b 

24 (100%) 









gr. 6 

20 (100%) 









Note a. Categories represent “deciles” of 1,750 root words — sampled from 17,500 total 
root words reported in Dale 8c O’Rourke ( 1 98 1 ) as words passed by 67% at Grade 1 2 or at youn- 
ger levels. 

Note b. Data from Form A omitted because anomalously high levels of vocabulary were 
seen in this Grade 5 sample. 



quence. At any rate, it appears that if we wish to facilitate vocabulary growth, 
we would be well advised to focus on words from the sequence that contrib- 
ute to general vocabulary growth. 

Note that to date, most studies of vocabulary instruction have not demon- 
strated effects on general vocabulary. Given that children are typically ac- 
quiring 800 to 1,000 word meanings per year, brief instructional inter- 
ventions of 1 to 3 weeks are unlikely to impact general vocabulary assessed 
with sample words. (Of course, if the sample test words were deliberately 
taught, large but fallacious vocabulary gains would be recorded.) Until vo- 
cabulary interventions succeeding in teachinglO to 15 word meanings per 
week are sustained over at least half a school year, we should not expect to 
have much impact on general vocabulary as assessed with the Peabody Pic- 
ture Vocabulary Test or other standardized assessments of vocabulary. 


Using Partially Known Words 

The best strategy for finding words for instruction would be to introduce 
words in sequence, or better, drawn from groups of words in the sequence 
appropriate to children of a specifiable vocabulary size. When identifying 
words needed by children at the end of the primary grades, my strategy is to 
focus on words “partially known.” Words known between about 30% and 
70% tend to be rapidly learned at each vocabulary size group. Thus by the 
next vocabulary size group, words which were known between 30% and 70% 
show an increase of 20 percentage points or more, whereas words known 
better or worse, show much less change going from one vocabulary size 
group to another. (This phenomenon can be seen in Table 1 1 .6.) To iden- 
tify such words for instruction in the primary grades, I suggest words meet- 
ing this criterion by “average” children in Grade 2. Word meanings that are 
typically well-learned by Grade 2 need not be instructed during the primary 
years. Word meanings that are unlikely to be well-learned by Grade 2 prob- 
ably are of less value to children in the primary grades than word meanings 
that are learned more rapidly at this age range. Unfortunately, these words 
are too often selected for primary-grade children. For example, Foorman 
et al. (in press) report that 80% of words were from “fourth grade level or 
higher” in four out of six first-grade basals . 

Word Significance 

Our selection of words, although greatly influenced by the observed se- 
quence of acquisition, should also be influenced by the practical signifi- 
cance of a word. We may need to further distinguish between “important 

TABLE 11.6 

Normative Population: Performance of Vocabulary Achievement Groups 
on Words of Varying Difficulty (Data Combined From Forms A and B) 

Avg. % Estimated Vocabulary Achievement Group 11 



0 - 









Gr. 1,2,4, 5 













































































































Numbers of Children at Each Grade in Each Vocabulary Achievement Group 



Number of Children at Vocabulary Achievement Level 











gr. 1 










gr. 2 










gr. 3 










gr. 4 










gr 5 










gr 6 




















Note. Numbers in italics were at 30% or lower average word knowledge. Numbers bolded 
were known at 70% or higher word knowledge. Estimated Vocabulary Achievement Group was 
based on number of words known sampled from Dale and O’Rourke’s Living Word Vocabulary 
Grade 2 to 12 words (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001), 




words,” “words”, and “unimportant words” These judgments will have to be 
made by teachers, curriculum builders, and state curriculum mandates. 
However, those selecting words for instruction would be well-advised to 
think several times about emphasizing words and concepts that are rarely 
found among average children of a particular grade. 

In the upper elementary grades, it is possible for children to identify 
words not understood and seek their meanings. When reading, a reader 
can pause to deal with unknown words. This is not possible when listening 
to adults reading — especially in a group situation. Thus with older chil- 
dren, it is possible to place greater responsibility on students for seeking 
needed vocabulary. For example, Grade 5 and 6 children report that they 
often ask others for word meanings (Biemiller, AERA 1999). However, 
preliterate children rarely ask about word meanings during group dis- 
course or lessons. (Beals, 1997). 

Selecting Words for the Primary Years. 

Of root words “known” by children w'ith 5,250 to 7,000 root words, words 
from the first 2 deciles (3,500 words) were mainly known. The average child 
in the 5,250-7,000 word meaning group would know about two thirds of the 
words from the third decile or about 1 ,200 of the 1 ,750 words. By the fourth 
and fifth deciles, individual children in the 5,250-7,000 word meaning 
group know about 1,500 of the next 3,500 words. Average Grade 2 children 
know relatively few of the harder words (deciles 6 and beyond). Thus, across 
a list of 5,000 words in deciles 3-5, average Grade 2 children at the median 
level will know a little over half. Different children will know different words 
at these deciles. We cannot simply specify a list to be learned. We cannot and 
should not expect every Grade 2 child to know all of these words. (By Grade 
5, average children will know most of these words.) On the other hand, it 
would be really nice to bring low vocabulary children in Grade 2 toward 
knowledge of half of these 5,000 words. 

Samples of words known, being learned, and unlikely to be learned by Grade 2 
are given in Table 1 1.7. Detailed examples of root words, Living Word Vo- 
cabulary definitions, and test context sentences are given in Table 1 1.8. 

To get to the point of knowing half of 5,000 decile 3-5 root word mean- 
ings, children whose vocabulary progress is well below average will have to be 
accelerated during the primary years. At present, such children enter kinder- 
garten with an estimated vocabulary of 2,000 to 2,500 root word meanings. 
This compares to an estimated root vocabulary of 3,400 words at kindergar- 
ten for average children. 2 In order to reach a total of even 5,000 words by the 

'These estimates are larger than the vocabularies we have actually obtained with children at 
this age. I believe that our context-sentence method underestimates vocabulary below Grade 
2. These estimates are obtained by simply projecting vocabulary size back from Grade 2. 

TABLE 11.7 

Words Known at Grade 2, Being Learned at Grade 2, 
and Not Usually Learned at Grade 2 

Known Well 

Being Learned 

Unlikely to Learn 

Decile 1 

Decile 3 

Decile 5 

Decile 6 

Decile 9 



















Tree (shoe) 



































Decile 2 

Decile 4 






Decile 7 














Cuard (v.) 

Decile 10 
































Decile 8 


















Note. Words taken from Appendices B and C of Biemiller and Slonim (2001). 


TABLE 11.8 

Sample Test Sentences for Words Known at Grade 2, 

Being Learned at Grade 2, and Not Usually Learned at Grade 2 



& Wo rd 

Meaning Tested 


Test Sentence 

Words known by 

Grade 2 (70% or better) 


a water animal 


Johnny caught a fish 


unusual flow of water 


The flood caused a lot of damage 
to the town. 


passage from stomach to 


He felt a lump in his throat. 


thing to light fire 


Where is the box of matches? 


eating place 


She met him at the cafe. 


a circled string 


He made two loops with his shoe 


to try to hear 


You should listen to your mother. 




The ball dropped from his hand. 


strike at a ball 


Jamie took his second swing at 
the ball. 




He kept his old hockey trophies. 


school subject 


John got his math work done 

Words being learned 

at Grade 2 (deciles 4 and 5) 




The cobra lived in the house. 




The teacher kept a tally of days 


act back 2 


When the cat saw the mouse, she 
didn't react. 


dull sound 


There was a thud in the next 





She enjoys watching drama 


tell secret 


He made a promise not to blab. 


petroleum jelly 


The jar of Vaseline is on the 




The parcel was delivered to the 




He saw a possum. 





long ago 


The year my mother was born 
seems distant to me. 


Public transportation 


The children took transit to 




Man has always had trouble with 
the weather. 

Words unlikely to be known in Grade 2 (30%; examples from deciles 6-10) 


rack for shoes, hats 


The guests hung their hats on 
the coat tree. 


game played on horseback 


They were watching polo. 


a defense 


Keep your guard up. 


strong desire 


Their lust for battle was strong. 


nature of 


Difficult times in life may show 
the true character of a person. 


tough tissue 


She suffered from torn cartilage 


item of computer data 


There are 8 bits in 1 byte. 


chain of businesses 


He bought a restaurant franchise. 


connect in series 


The sequence of events was 


ability to move 


His locomotion was poor. 


cut open 


He lanced the wound. 


scratch material 


That material is abrasive. 

Note a. A derived word but probably learned as a basic word. 

end of Grade 2, such children would, on average, have to acquire 1 , 1 00 words 
a year or approximately twice the rate of words lower quartile children have 
demonstrated at present (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). It is probable that the 
words they need most will fall into the 4th and 5th deciles of words. 

Experience with vocabulary instruction shows that it is typical for some of 
the words taught to be learned while others are simply not (Biemiller & 
Boote, submitted). Again, in many cases, we are seeing an increase in the 
percentage of children knowing a word — not an “all or nothing” result. In 
many cases, we are teaching words that some children already knew. Some of 
the rest of the children acquire the word as a result of classroom instruction. 
Thus to some extent, we will need to teach more words than will be learned. 


Today I have described evidence for a robust sequence of word meaning ac- 
quisition, and some implications of that sequence for classroom instruction. 



It would be nice to have a theory explaining this order. The evidence that a 
sequence of words exists is stronger than evidence explaining why the se- 
quence is observed. Print word frequency is not a major factor. There is lit- 
tle correlation between print word form frequency and observed word 
order. This partly because many word forms have many meanings 
(polysemy) so that print word frequency bears little relationship to specific 
root word meaning frequency. Furthermore, prior to Grade 3, children are 
really very little influenced by print word frequency, as they read little or not 
at all. The frequency of oral root meanings may in fact have a major role in 
word acquisition. Certainly words which are not experienced cannot be 
learned. Unfortunately, we do not have good estimates of oral word fre- 
quency, much less an estimate of oral word meaning frequency'. 

It is also clear that word meanings that are likely to be learned relatively 
early are for the most part “not abstract” (i.e., these words refer to objects 
that can be seen, actions that can be carried out, and modifiers that can be 
apprehended directly (e.g., color, size, sound, etc.). 

My colleagues and I are currently examining some other statistical 
sources — Rinsland’s (1947) count of word use in young children’s writing 
and oral speech (first grade), Hart and Risley’s ( 1 999) reports of words used 
early in life, and other published sources of oral word frequency. The total 
number of words spoken in homes is correlated with the number of words 
learned (Hart & Risley, 1995; 1999). However, in addition to the total num- 
ber of words spoken in families, the number of different word meanings paral- 
lels the total number of words. I suspect that the number of different words, 
may be more important than the total number of words heard. 

Beyond approaches based on oral or print word frequencies, we are at- 
tempting to identify empirically words that fall into the “fourth and fifth 
deciles” of words, by simply testing words likely to be at this level. These are 
words drawn from Living Word Vocabulary levels 4 to 8, using a rating pro- 
cess to eliminate some words and testing to confirm the remainder. We 
hope to have 5,000 to 6,000 such words identified by 2006. We hope that 
with a larger corpus of appropriate words, we may be able to identify rele- 
vant aspects of these words that may allow us to construct a theory of word 
meaning order. 


In this chapter, I discussed the importance of vocabulary'. As I noted, al- 
though the ability to read words in a text is prerequisite to comprehending 
the text, many children can read words but fail to understand what they 
read due to vocabulary limitations. 

Before describing our approach to identifying words for instruction for 
use in the primary grades, I reviewed a number of studies which support the 



conclusion that words are acquired in a predictable order. Of particular im- 
portance is the finding that the order of word knowledge in different popu- 
lations (normative-English speaking, advantaged, and ESL) is remarkably 
similar. The correlation of words in different populations are correlated 
around r = .90 or better. 

Given that words are, in fact, acquired in the same order — whether one 
reaches a vocabulary of a given size at age 6, 8, or 10 — the actual word 
meanings learned will be similar. Thus to accelerate the rate of word acqui- 
sition for low-vocabulary children, we should probably fill in the words that 
have been partially learned by those with larger vocabularies. We have tar- 
geted words typically known by some but not all children at a specified 
grade level. We propose to find words known at 30% to 70% by median chil- 
dren at a target grade. For the primary grades, we believe such a list can be 
constructed based on target words at the end of Grade 2 . Once we have such 
a list in hand, we can begin to design an effective vocabulary curriculum. In 
my view, such a curriculum would primarily use repeated reading of narra- 
tive and expository adult-read texts, combined with explanations of se- 
lected word meanings and reviews of words taught. Without knowledge of 
appropriate target words, it will be extremely difficult to run a program that is worth 
using classroom time. 


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24, 283-304. 



In Pursuit of an Effective, 
Efficient Vocabulary Curriculum 
for Elementary Students 

Elfrieda H. Hiebert 

University of California, Berkeley 

She ran and she ran, until the blizzard became a whiteout. Then she could run no 
more. While Mick and the team took refuge in Galena, seven hours ahead, Akiak bur- 
rowed into a snowdrift to wait out the storm. 

In the morning the mound of snow came alive, and out pushed Akiak. 

—Blake, 1997 

This 52-word excerpt contains 3 of the 22 words that are targeted for vocab- 
ulary instruction of the text Akiak (Blake, 1 997) in the teacher’s edition that 
accompanies the fourth-grade textbook of a basal reading program: refuge, 
burrowed, and whiteout. All three words appear only once in the story and in 
the entire fourth-grade program. Not only do these words occur infre- 
quently in the program but also they are unlikely to occur with any fre- 
quency in typical instructional texts. According to Zeno, Ivens, Millard, and 
Duwuri’s (1995) analysis of 17.25 million words of school texts, burrowed 
and whiteout would be expected to appear less than once per one-mil- 
lion-word corpus and refuge three times. Of the 24 words that are high- 
lighted for vocabulary instruction of this text in the teacher’s edition, 1 1 
would be expected to have one or fewer appearances per one-million-word 
corpus of school texts from kindergarten through college. Furthermore, 




the number of rare words in this text is not limited to those that have been 
chosen for instruction. Within this 52-word sample, there are five addi- 
tional words of this type: blizzard, Galena, mound, snowdrift, and the title and 
name of the protagonist of the story, Akiak. 

This text illustrates the vocabulary demands that face American stu- 
dents. N agy and Anderson ( 1 984) estimated the number of distinct words in 
school texts used in Grades 3 through 9 to be approximately 88,500 differ- 
ent words and, according to Zeno et al. (1995), an additional 70,000 differ- 
ent words are part of the corpus of texts in Grades 10 through college. 
Which of these words should be taught? Is the choice evident in this 
teacher’s edition to address rare words the appropriate one? 

This chapter proposes that vocabulary curricula need to be derived from 
principles that are grounded in research and theory, if the many American 
students at or below basic standards on state and national tests (Donahue, 
Finnegan, Lutkus, Allen, & Campbell, 2001) are to read at acceptable lev- 
els. In this chapter, such principles are identified and applied. The current 
principles are not proposed as the only basis for a vocabulary curriculum. 
However, the feature of this chapter that is proposed as invariant is the ap- 
plication of a set of theory- and research-based principles to defining vocab- 
ulary curricula, especially when the recipients of those curricula are the 
students of an entire state or, in the case of textbook programs, students 
across the country. 

The principles that are the focus of this chapter are aimed at identifying 
an “effective and efficient component” of a vocabulary curriculum for 
Grades 1 through 4. “Effective” in the phrase refers to a vocabulary curricu- 
lum that ensures experience for elementary students with words that are 
unknown to them but that account for a significant portion of texts in 
Grades 5 and beyond. “Efficient” refers to the emphasis in this curriculum 
on words that have the widest possible application within texts, such as 
words that are in semantic families with many members. Finally, “compo- 
nent” is an important part of this goal in that this curriculum is regarded as 
part of a larger vocabulary curriculum, not the entire vocabulary curricu- 
lum, in Grades 1 through 4. 


An Effective Vocabulary Curriculum 

The authors of the textbook program from which the excerpt that intro- 
duced this chapter came have chosen to direct teachers’ instruction to 
rare words and fairly common words. In addition to the 1 1 rare words 



that were previously mentioned, 8 of the other 1 3 instructional words 
have frequencies of 100 or more per one million word corpus. Only a 
handful of the words are in the in-between range that Beck, McKeown, 
and Kucan (2002) have described as part of literate, written discourse. 
The words that Beck et al. have described as part of written discourse are 
illustrated in the following text that comes from the first unit of a sec- 
ond-grade science text: “Pollen, a powdery material, is made by one part 
of the flower. Pollen is needed to make seeds form.” (Badders, Bethel, 
Fu, Peck, Sumners, & Valentino, 2000). 

If students do not understand words such as material, form, and part, they 
may have difficulty understanding words that are likely new to second grad- 
ers: pollen, pou >dery. The words material, form, and part occur with substantial 
frequency in written language: 153, 384, and 694 times per million-word 
corpus, respectively (Zeno et al., 1995). Young children do not necessarily 
know the meanings of these three words. According to Dale and O’Rourke 
(1981), the percentages of fourth graders — the youngest students in their 
study — who identified the chief meanings of part and form from several 
choices were 81% and 77%, respectively. The meaning of material was even 
more difficult, recognized by 91% of sixth graders but less than 67% of 
fourth graders. In the content areas, the meanings of such words are as- 
sumed and so it is not surprising that the teacher’s edition of this science 
text does not direct teachers to attend to the words material, form, and part. 
An effective vocabulary curriculum is defined as one where the words that 
are used most often in literary and content area texts are taught — words 
such as form, material, and part. 

The current interest was to establish an effective vocabulary through 
fourth grade. As has frequently been recognized (Chalk Jacobs, 8c Baldwin, 
1990), Grade 4 is a watershed in students’ reading. The gap between the 
students who are reading well and those who are not is evident at this point. 
In an analysis of the Degrees of Reading Power readability system, Zeno et 
al. (1995) provided evidence of the demands on fourth graders. If 
1 2th-grade vocabulary is considered as constituting 1 00% of a word corpus, 
fourth-grade texts demand that students know about 84% of the vocabu- 
lary. From Grades 4 through 10, the increase in the percentage of the total 
vocabulary is approximately 9% and from Grades 10 to 12 the final 7%. In 
all likelihood, these increases from Grades 5 through 1 0 and from Grades 
10 to 12 are in the specialized vocabularies of content areas. However, to 
learn this specialized vocabulary, students need to have acquired the foun- 
dational vocabulary by the end of Grade 4. An effective curriculum for the 
elementary years from Grades 1 through 4 should support students in ac- 
quiring the foundational vocabulary that accounts for a substantial portion 
of academic, written discourse. 



An Efficient Vocabulary Curriculum 

When analyses of word corpora indicate that approximately 88,500 unique 
words appear in the texts that students read from Grades 3 to 9 (Carroll, 
Davies, & Richman, 1971; Nagy & Anderson, 1984) and 150,000 from kin- 
dergarten through college (Zeno et ah, 1995), it becomes clear that all 
words cannot be taught. An assumption of the current work is that students’ 
learning of key words from semantic families with numerous members 
should comprise at least part of a vocabulary program. For example, by 
learning a group of words that come from the same root — satisfy, satisfaction, 
satisfactory, satisfied, unsatisfied — students had exposure to a semantic family 
almost 50 times per 1 million words. In contrast, when single words are ad- 
dressed — even words with 10 appearances per million such as cargo, era, 
and linen — students have considerably less opportunity for exposure or the 
need to use the words. By addressing words in semantic families with at least 
two or more members from among the most frequently used words in writ- 
ten language, a curriculum can be more efficient in developing word knowl- 
edge in students. 

A Component of a Vocabulary Program 

Baumann et al. (chapter 9, this volume) have suggested that explicit vocab- 
ulary instruction occurs in a 20:80 ratio to reading, discussing, and learning 
from literature and content texts. Although the amounts of time that are de- 
voted to explicit instruction of vocabulary may vary at different times in stu- 
dents’ school careers, the vocabulary curriculum that the current 
scholarship aims to identify is intended for only part of the vocabulary ex- 
periences of elementary students. The manner in which the targeted vocab- 
ulary curriculum emanates from the texts that students are reading in 
reading/language arts is as yet uncertain. In that narrative texts are the al- 
most exclusive fare of elementary reading/language arts programs (Duke, 
2000) and that children’s literature contains a high percentage of rare 
words (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996), it may be difficult to attend to words 
that occur frequently in content areas with these narrative texts. 

The identification of an effective and efficient vocabulary is the aim of 
this chapter, not addressing either the best materials or instructional proce- 
dures by which this vocabulary can best be taught and learned. Although a 
vocabulary that is effective and efficient needs to be developed in the ele- 
mentary grades, this vocabulary should not be viewed as the be-all and 
end-all of vocabulary' instruction. Words such as connect, develop, form, and 
materials — although critical — form only part of a vocabulary program. Vo- 
cabulary instmction is also needed of specialized vocabularies in science 
(e.g., igneous, sedimentary, metaphoric) and social studies (equality, democracy. 



federal). Furthermore, instruction is needed on strategies for figuring out 
the rare but context-rich words of literature such as rambunctious and forlorn. 


The process of identifying words for the proposed vocabulary curriculum 
occurred in two phases. The first was to identify the overall corpus that 
would be the focus of the curriculum; the second was to identify words 
within this overall corpora for inclusion in a vocabulary curriculum for 
Grades 1 through 4. 

Choosing the Overall Corpus 

Before designating particular words that might be taught, the overall 
corpus that underlay the vocabulary curriculum needed to be estab- 
lished. Decisions also needed to be made as to which portions of the cor- 
pus would be addressed. 

Selecting a Database. With an underlying assumption that an elemen- 
tary curriculum should address words that occur with frequency in written 
discourse, a search was conducted of studies that summarize word frequen- 
cies in written discourse. Beginning with Thorndike (1921), periodic efforts 
have been made to establish the words in texts read by children and adults. 
The most comprehensive and recent list of the frequencies of words in writ- 
ten text is that of Zeno et al. (1995). Zeno et al. established the U function of 
150,000 words from a corpus of 17.25 million words that came from texts 
used in educating kindergarten through college students. The U function 
indicates the number of times a word appears per one million words of writ- 
ten discourse. Zeno et al. (1995) grouped words by U functions of 30,000, 
10,000, 3,000, 1,000, 300, 100, 30, 10, 3, 1, and less than 1. Data on the 
number of words that share a U function, the proportion of total words for 
which the group accounts, and the proportion of the total word corpus ac- 
counted for by a single word within a group appear in Table 12.1. Inasmuch 
as Zeno et al.(1995) included college texts with highly specialized vocabu- 
laries in their analyses, it is not surprising to find that their list includes a 
higher percentage of words with frequencies less than 1 than was the case in 
the Carroll et al. ( 197 1 ) analysis that had a smaller range of grade-level text 
(third through ninth grades). 

Designating the Scope of a Curriculum From Grades 1 Through 4. In- 
dividual texts would not be expected to have profiles such as the one in Ta- 
ble 12.1. That is, a particular text at a particular grade level is unlikely to 



TABLE 12.1 

Definition of Word Zones 



Appearances in 
1 million words 

Words per zone 
New words Cumulative 

of total of 
1 -million- 
word corpus 

Single word’s 
contribution to 
total corpus (%) 


























































.99 and fewer 





have 67% of its words with frequencies of 100 or more, 7% with words with 
frequencies of 30, and so on. But what words might be expected to be prom- 
inent in Grades 1 through 4? 

To establish the vocabulary that accounts for a substantial portion of 
fourth-grade texts, released versions of the standards-based tests of three of 
the United States’ four largest states' (Texas, New York, and Florida) and 
the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were ana- 
lyzed. The aim was to establish the group of words within these levels or 
zones that account for 90% of the vocabulary on these tests. Ninety percent 
was chosen because this level has typically been viewed to be the minimal 
level required for meaningful reading (Clay, 1985). In the frustration, in- 
struction, and independent levels of Betts (1946), 90% designates the lower 
end of instructional level. Kuhn & Stahl (2003) have suggested that readers 
who can recognize 9 out of 10 words in a text automatically should have suf- 
ficient resources to use context to figure out the one unknown word in 1 0. 

The results of the analysis of the passages on the fourth-grade assess- 
ments are summarized in Table 1 2.2. The data indicate that the three state 
tests and the NAEP have remarkably similar characteristics. An average of 
92% of the unique words on all three state tests and the NAEP assessment 

'Sample items or passages from the standards-based assessment of America's largest state. 
California, were not available to researchers at the time this chapter was written. 



TABLE 12.2 

Percentages of Unique Words in Word Zones: 
Three Primary States and NAEP 



FCAT, 2003 

NY State, 2003 

YAKS, 2003 


NAEP (2002) perzone(s) 























































was accounted for by words with U functions of 1 0 appearances or more per 
one million-word corpus. In light of this consistency across large-state as- 
sessments and the NAEP, it could be argued that the most effective curricu- 
lum through fourth grade consists of words with frequencies of 1 0 or more 
per million words of text. 

Within a curriculum that moves fourth graders to proficiency with this 
corpus of words, words with particular U functions will be referred to as 
word zones. A first choice in establishing word zones was to exclude the 
first 107 words that have U functions of 1,000 or more from the develop- 
mental vocabulary curriculum. These words are ones that serve gram- 
matical functions in written discourse (e.g., the, of, and, a) and, although 
first graders may be able to recognize them, most first graders (as well as 
proficient adult readers) may be hard-pressed to define these words. 
However, fluency in recognizing these words automatically is required 
for the initiation of a vocabulary curriculum. For lack of a better label, 
this zone will be identified as “0.” 

Vocabulary instruction would begin with word zone 1 — those words 
that appear 300 times per 1 million words. This word zone is proposed as 
the target for instruction in Grade 1 . Each subsequent frequency group is 
described as a word zone with the number of its corresponding grade 
level. By the fourth word zone (corresponding to Grade 4), approximately 
80% of the entire word corpus through college (Zeno et al., 1995), 90% 
through ninth grade (Carroll et al., 1971), and approximately 92% of the 
words on the standards-based tests of prominent states and on the NAEP 
are accounted for. 

The words with frequencies less than 1 0 occurrences per 1 million words 
are not a focus of the Grades 1 through 4 developmental curriculum. The 
numbers that correspond with these two zones — 5 and 6 — are not meant to 



imply a focus for a particular grade. Hopefully, specialized vocabularies 
that are represented in these word zones would be taught in Grades 5 and 
above. The current work aims to establish a vocabulary curriculum that will 
support fourth graders in reading content area and literary texts with suffi- 
cient knowledge of frequent words to leave enough cognitive resources for 
figuring out unknown words. 

Identifying the Target Words Within the Word Zones 

The analysis of tests supported attention to particular zones of words. The 
next step was to establish which words within these zones should be the fo- 
cus at a grade level. Two criteria were applied in establishing the appropri- 
ateness of words for instruction: (a) their semantic connections and (b) their 
known-ness to students at particular grade levels. 

Semantic Families. The 5,586 words from zones 1 through 4 were ana- 
lyzed for semantic families. To establish these semantic families, Nagy and 
Anderson’s (1984) categorization scheme was used. In their investigation of 
the number of distinct words in printed English using the Carroll et al. 
(1971) word list, Nagy and Anderson ( 1 984) developed a set of categories of 
semantic relatedness. These categories were formed to answer the question, 
“Assuming that a child knew the meaning of the immediate ancestor, but 
not the meaning of the target word, to what extent would the child be able to 
determine the meaning of the target word when encountering it in context 
while reading?” (Nagy 8c Anderson, 1984, p. 310). 

Target words and their immediate ancestors from the 5,586 words are 
given in Table 12.3 for each of Nagy and Anderson’s six categories. In their 
first category, a target word’s meaning can be established immediately, if the 
ancestor of the family is known. The sixth and final category on Nagy and An- 
derson’s (1984) semantic relatedness scale is described as having “no discern- 
ible semantic connection; the meaning of the immediate answer is of no use 
in learning or remembering the meaning of the target word” (p. 311). They 
classify the first three categories as semantically transparent and the last 
three as semantically opaque. The former refers to relationships where 
meaning of an unknown target word can be accurately ascertained based on 
knowing a related word, whereas the latter refers to relationships where the 
meaning of the unknown word is sufficiently different that the meaning of a 
known word is not useful or even distracts from the appropriate meaning. 
The current aim in identifying a first- through fourth-grade curriculum was 
to stay in the “semantically transparent” set of categories (Nagy and Ander- 
son’s first three) rather than semantically opaque (their last three). 

The first clustering of words into semantic families was on the basis of in- 
flected endings. Whereas the focus of the semantic relatedness categories is 



TABLE 12.3 

Examples of Target Word and Immediate Ancestor 
for Six Categories of Semantic Relatedness 1 

Target Word 

Immediate Ancestor 







Sunshine, sunlight, sunset 
























'These categories were first identified by Nagy and Anderson (1984). 

on suffixation, prefixation, and compounds of root words, inflected end- 
ings account for a substantial number of the members of semantic families. 
To establish semantic relatedness among words with suffixes, prefixes, and 
compounds of root words, meanings were confirmed with the Merriam- 
Webster Online Dictionary (2002). Although the aim was to stay with se- 
mantic families where connections across members were semantically 
transparent, the connections across words can become complex. The diffi- 
culties are evident in Nagy and Anderson’s (1984) acknowledgement that 
“exact agreement on the 6-point scale was not achieved” (p. 312). Even in 
sorting between the two general categories of transparent and opaque, 
Nagy and Anderson (1984) reported an agreement level of 76.6%. Whereas 
each of the members of a semantic family is tied directly to the root word, 
connections between pairs of words in families can be less transparent. 
Take, for example, words related to vision. Nagy and Anderson give visual 
(ancestor) and visualize (target word) as illustrating semantic category 
4 — where the meaning of the target item includes semantic features that are 
not inferable from the meaning of the immediate ancestor without substan- 
tial help from the context. Although visualize is not among the 5,586 words, 
visual , vision, visible, and invisible are. All of these words are defined in rela- 
tion to vision by Merriam-Webster (2002). Consequently, all of these words 



are clustered into the same semantic family, even though the connection 
between visual and visible is not as transparent as that, for example, between 
visual and vision or between vision and visible. 

A semantic family was assigned to the zone in which the first member of 
the family appeared. For example, continued appears in zone 2, whereas con- 
tinue appears in zone 3. The latter is the ancestor of the former. However, the 
semantic family with these words (and others) was assigned to zone 2. 

Word Known-ness. The vocabulary curricula of basal reading pro- 
grams have been criticized as addressing known words (Beck et al., 2002). 
To ensure that the current curriculum was the most effective one possible, a 
measure was needed to establish “known-ness” of words. A chapter on de- 
fining a vocabulary curriculum should not be proposing the addition of new 
words to the lexicon. However, the various words that have been proposed 
to describe the construct of children’s grasp of a word’s meaning (e.g., fa- 
miliarity, knowledge, understanding) do not convey the emphasis on words 
that students already understand. Consequently, the word knoum-ness is 
used to describe students’ knowledge of word meanings. 

To establish the appropriate range of “word known-ness,” the key words 
from semantic families were vetted through two procedures: (a) eliminating 
words that are known by the overwhelming majority of a grade cohort and 
(b) moving words from a zone where they may be too difficult for grade- 
level students to an appropriate zone. 

The Dale and O’Rourke (1981) Living Word Vocabulary (LWV) and 
Biemiller and Slocum’s (2001) adaptations of it were used as resources for 
both procedures. The methods whereby the LWV was developed and the 
time frame within which it was validated make the LWV a less-than-ideal re- 
source for use with students in the early part of the 2 1 st century. At the pres- 
ent time, however, the LWV is the only comprehensive, existing database 
on students’ familiarity with word meanings. It consists of 44,000 word 
meanings that have been assigned to grade levels based on at least 67% of a 
grade-level cohort correctly identifying a word’s meaning from three 
choices. Dale and O’Rourke (1981) gathered information on students from 
grades 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and young adults. Words that were recognized by 
more than 80% of an age cohort were given to students at the next lower 
grade level. As fourth graders were the youngest students tested, the words 
in the sample — 11% — that were known to this group were assigned a 
Level/Grade 4 rating. Biemiller and Slocum (2001) identified these words 
as a Level 2. Biemiller and Slocum (2001) examined a small percentage of 
words from Level 2 with students ranging from kindergarten through sixth 
grade. Of the 20 Level-2 words that were tested, 80% or more of second 
graders knew half of the words. Even 80% of the first-grade cohort knew a 
quarter of the Level 2 words. 



In addition to procedures used to establish the LWV, issues of cultural 
specificity of words for particular age cohorts and economic and linguistic 
groups leave numerous questions about the LWV. A word that was known by 
69% of sixth graders according to Dale and O’Rourke (1981 ) — shot, as in an 
injection — was known by 83% of first graders and 94% of second graders in 
the Biemiller and Slocum (2001) sample. Other words may be specific to 
time periods, such as these words on the Dale-Chall (Chall & Dale, 1995) 
list: boxcar and tiddlywinks. Both words achieve Biemiller and Slocum’s 
(200 1 ) Level 2 status by virtue of being known by 80% of fourth graders that 
were sampled by Dale and O’Rourke (1981) over the two decades that pre- 
ceded its initial publication in 1976. 

Because of shortcomings in the LWV system, an additional resource was 
used for decisions of inclusion or exclusion on grade-level lists in the pres- 
ent study: The Ginn Word Book for Teachers (GWBT; Johnson & Moe with 
Baumann, 1983). To develop a listing of 9,000 words in the GWBT, John- 
son et al. (1983) developed a composite rating of a word based on (a) word 
frequency in middle-grade texts (based on the Carroll et al. [1971] list), (b) 
word frequency in popular trade books for primary grades, and (c) words in 
the speaking vocabularies of first-grade students. These composite ratings 
were used to rank words and from these rankings, words were assigned to 
grade-level groups. For example, whereas the word form in zone 1 has a 
LWV rating of 77% for fourth graders, the GWBT places this word in the 
first half of Grade 1 . As the GWBT is based on word frequencies through 
ninth grade (Carroll et al., 1971), primary-level trade books, and speaking 
vocabularies of first graders, this verification indicates that it is a word that 
has some applicability to first graders. 

The percentages on the LWV were assigned numbers on a scale with the 
same number of points as the GW'BT: 23. Category 1 encompassed ratings 
of 96% and higher at fourth-grade level on the LWV, and each subsequent 
point represented a span of five percentage points. The final point of 23 
represented words that had ratings of 94 or lower at Grade 1 0 on the LWV. 

A summary score was established by dividing the sum of the LWV and 
GWBT scores. The ranges for the word zones/grade levels were as follows: 
(a): Zone 0/Primer: 1-3; (b) Zone One/Grade 1 : 4-6; (c) Zone Two/Grade 2: 
7-11; (d) Zone Three/Grade 3: 12-14; and (e) Zone Four/Grade 4: 15-17. 
For example, the word form had a sum of 4.5 (5 for the 77% Grade 4 LWV 
rating plus the 4 rating in the GWBT). This meant that the word remained 
in zone 1 , where the first member of the family appeared. Words with scores 
that were more than one level below a grade-level range (e.g., 5 for words in 
zone/grade 2) were eliminated, while words with ratings that were more 
than one level above a grade-level range (i.e., 13 for zone/grade two) were 
moved to the next word zone. The numbers of words within a particular 
zone/grade, those that were eliminated, and those that were moved to dif- 



ferent word zones appear in Table 12.4. Table 12.5 provides examples of 
words from each of the four target word zones. 


The summary of numbers of words in Table 12.4 and the illustrated words 
in Table 12.5 support several observations about the proposed vocabu- 
lary. The first observation pertains to the number of semantic families. Of 
the 5,586 words that are likely to appear 10 or more times per one-mil- 
lion-word corpus, approximately 10% represent a cluster of semantic re- 
latedness within the corpus and are sufficiently unknown to a critical 
portion of an age cohort to merit instruction. Approximately 550 words 
taught over the course of four grades would seem to be a doable task, in 
light of previous projects (e.g., Baumann, Edwards, Boland, Olejnik, & 
Kame’enui, 2003; Beck, McKeown, & McCaslin, 1983). As the distribution 
indicates in Table 12.4, the numbers of words that need to be taught differ 
for different grade-level groups. At Grades 1 and 2, when children are de- 
veloping the fundamental fluency that serves as the foundation for their 
reading, the number of words that require direct, varied, and rich instruc- 
tion is substantially lower than in Grades 3 and 4. In Grades 3 and 4, the 
chief reading task changes from fluency building to vocabulary building. 
At this point, the number of words that require direct, varied, and rich in- 
struction increases substantially. 

A second observation is that each of these semantic groups accounts for, 
on average, 3 words in the 5,586 most-frequent words in kindergarten 
through college texts. That is, instruction in the 538 words of this desig- 
nated vocabulary curriculum will address approximately 30% of the 5,586 

TABLE 12.4 

Curriculum Focus Words and Sources 

Word zone 
& grade 




Semantic families with 
families 2+ members 












8 to Zone 2; 
1 to Zone 3 







1 8 to Zone 3 







20 to Zone 2; 
24 to Zone 4 










TABLE 12.5 

Illustrations of Words Within the Four Target Zones/Grades 

Word Zone/Grade 

Words within Zone/Grade 

























most-frequent words. Furthermore, these are words that have meanings 
that at least a core group of students are likely not to know. 

Third, many of the words have a high level of utility across the texts of 
several content areas. As part of their database, Zeno et al. (1995) provided 
a dispersion index that indicates the level to which a word appears across 
texts from different content areas. Altogether, texts from nine content ar- 
eas were sampled in their corpus — language arts and literature, social sci- 
ence, science and math, fine arts, home economics and related fields, trade 
and technical fields, health and safety, business, and popular fiction and 
nonfiction. A word that appears in numerous content areas, such as fact, has 
a dispersion index of .99. Because of Zeno et al.’s (1995) sampling proce- 
dure (a relatively small sample of texts from numerous grade levels across 
numerous content areas), those words that appeared frequently would be 



expected to have high dispersion indexes. This pattern was confirmed. 
Only a few words with frequencies of 10 or more per one-million-word cor- 
pus had lower dispersion indexes. These words are important but specific 
to a particular content area such as acid , a zone 3 word, with a dispersion in- 
dex of .65 and government, a zone 1 word, with a dispersion index of .71 . On 
average, however, words with appearances of 10 or more per one-mil- 
lion-word corpus had dispersion indexes of .88. That is, the words in this 
curriculum have high utility across content areas. 

This utility across content areas also means that the majority of words 
have a range of meanings, often specific to particular content areas. For ex- 
ample, the word style in zone 3 is fairly typical of the group. It has 1 2 mean- 
ings, including ones that are part of literary language (distinction; manner; 
current fashion) and content areas (the part of a carpel between the stigma 
and ovary in botany; a projection on some insects in zoology; and a particu- 
lar manner of dealing with spelling, punctuation in printing). Few of these 
meanings can be learned by a simple association with a known word. To un- 
derstand these various meanings will not be a simple task. 

Additional analyses are being conducted on the characteristics of 
these words such as parts of speech and imagery value. One characteris- 
tic of the words as a group that seems highly promising is the number of 
words that have a shared cognate with Spanish. Within a group of 50 
words from the curricular list that were randomly selected, non-Span- 
ish-speaking adults were asked to write the English equivalent of the 
word when given exposure to the Spanish word for a second (e.g., 
aceptar/accept, horizonte /horizon). They identified the corresponding Eng- 
lish word for 53% of the corpus. 


The proposed curriculum requires substantial validation before it can be 
established that it is, indeed, effective and efficient in increasing the 
reading comprehension of students in the middle grades. Caveats re- 
lated to the principles that were chosen for this curriculum need to be ad- 
dressed. But even with these caveats, the use of principles — the specific 
ones used in this project as well as others — should be the source of con- 
siderable discussion among policymakers and researchers. Further- 
more, while the particular curriculum described in this chapter should 
be one of many, a set of guidelines can be useful to the many classroom 
teachers across the country who are aware that their students require vo- 
cabulary guidance that is substantially more disciplined than that which 
is currently available. 




A primary caution about the methodology that was used in establishing the 
effective, efficient vocabulary curriculum presented in this chapter was the 
criteria for known-ness. In particular, the systems available for establishing 
known-ness of words do not reflect the norms of early elementary students 
at the beginning of the 21st century. Both the Dale and O’Rourke (1981) 
and the Johnson et al. (1983) systems were developed with students and/or 
texts in the decades prior to an extensive immigration of speakers of lan- 
guages other than English to American schools during the 1980s and 
1990s. While the Dale and O’Rourke system has been examined with Eng- 
lish-language learners to some degree (Biemiller & Slocum, 2001), numer- 
ous questions remain about the generalizability of this list to 21st-century 
students, especially those who speak Spanish as a native language. For ex- 
ample, native Spanish speakers may grasp the meanings of words where the 
common word in Spanish has a transparent Latin cognate for the English 
word more quickly than native English speakers. 

Implications for Scholars 

In choosing vocabulary for the elementary curriculum, a fundamental issue 
is the role of text in guiding the selection of vocabulary. The text excerpt 
that introduced this chapter is typical of literature where the number of rare 
words is high (Hayes et al., 1996). Literary writers, unlike those who write 
even the informational texts that are sold on the trade rather than textbook 
market (Duke & Kays, 1998), use many words a single time. When writers of 
narrative want to communicate a trait or an action of a character, they select 
words that are specific. This use of words by narrative writers is illustrated in 
the introductory excerpt from Akiak (Blake, 1997) where Akiak burrows 
into the snowdrift and pushes out of a mound of snow. The same nouns and 
verbs are not repeated as the writer selects words to communicate nuances 
of behavior or character traits. 

Because an overwhelming portion of the texts of reading instruction 
consists of narrative literature from trade books (Duke, 2000; Hoffman, 
Roser, Patterson, Salas, & Pennington, 200 1 ), the number of unique per to- 
tal words is high in current textbook programs (Foorman, Francis, 
Davidson, Harm, & Griffin, 2004). As is typical of narrative literature, many 
of the unique words in the anthologies of first-grade basal programs appear 
a single time (Foorman et al., 2004). 

As the instruction of vocabulary has typically occurred as part of read- 
ing lessons and in connection with the reading textbooks, these character- 
istics of school texts have consequences for the vocabularies students are 



acquiring. This observation does not mean that a vocabulary curriculum 
should be disconnected from the texts of instructional lessons. The first 
criterion for the words in the present effective and efficient vocabulary 
curriculum was their frequency in text. In that the “dispersion” index of 
the words was used to confirm the choice of words for the vocabulary cur- 
riculum, few words are used in a single content area. This frequency in lit- 
erate, written discourse is also evident in the literature used in the basal 
reading programs. When an analysis was done of the texts of the first unit 
of a fourth-grade basal program, which included Akiak, the 5,538 words 
that were the basis for this curriculum accounted for 82% of the unique 
words. Although this percentage was lower than that of the texts on the 
state and national standards-based assessments, the most frequent words 
of a literate, written word corpus also account for a significant percentage 
of words in literature. The difficulty of attending to the multiple meanings 
and derivatives of high-frequency words such as associated and tense in liter- 
ature is illustrated by the examples from Akiak. The high-frequency words 
are present, but the percentage of rare words in children’s literature is 
higher than is typical of fourth-grade assessments. Rather than needing to 
be able to attend to 1 unknown word per 100, the literature — at least of 
this widely used basal program (Cooper et al., 2003) — requires students to 
be able to figure out 2 unknown words per 100. 

The question is whether the texts of instruction, especially the narrative 
texts that are now common to basal reading programs, should drive the 
“explicit” vocabulary curriculum. An alternative is suggested in the report 
of the National Reading Panel (2000): “A large portion of vocabulary items 
should be derived from content learning materials” (pp. 4-25). Not only 
does vocabulary instruction with content text prepare students for the texts 
that can be challenging for many students (Chall et al., 1990) but, as Duke 
and Kays (1998) have shown, vocabulary representing critical concepts is 
repeated in informational text. This repetition is evident in the writing of 
Gail Gibbons, a well-known author of informational trade books. When the 
word cultivated is first introduced in The Berry Book (Gibbons, 2002), Gib- 
bons repeats it several times: “Some berries are grown in gardens. They are 
called cultivated berries. Cultivated berries also are grown in nurseries and 
on farms. Cultivated berries are harvested in dilferent ways (pp. 13-14). 

Implications for Policymakers and Publishers 

The proposed curriculum requires substantial validation with students be- 
fore it can have widespread dissemination. However, policymakers and 
publishers can apply this work’s aim of using a principled approach to select 
vocabulary for instruction. The principles of effectiveness and efficacy have 
a strong foundation in existing theory 7 and research. Other principles may 



well be applied. One such construct that has a substantial foundation in the- 
ory and research is semantic connections (Marzano & Marzano, 1988). 
Marzano and Marzano (1988) organized 7,230 words that are commonly 
found in elementary school texts. They grouped these words into 61 
superclusters of meaning — tied together by a common theme such as trans- 
portation or location/direction. 

A thematic construct such as that suggested by the Marzano and 
Marzano (1988) superclusters is presumably what underlies the selection 
of literature — and subsequently vocabulary — in the textbook program 
from which the illustration that introduced the chapter came (Cooper et 
al., 2003). The story Akiak (Blake, 1997) is in a theme entitled “Journeys” 
with three other texts: Grandfather’s Journey (Say, 1993), Finding the Ti- 
tanic (Ballard, 1993), and By the Shores of Silver Lake (Wilder, 1939). At- 
tempts to organize the 85 words that are highlighted for vocabulary 
attention in the teacher’s manual did not result in discernible semantic 
categories, either from the Marzano and Marzano (1988) clusters or 
other groupings. However, when the 1,009 unique words in this unit 
were reexamined and the 246 words from zones 3 and 4 in the proposed 
vocabulary (words with probable appearances of 10 and 30 within a 
one-million-word corpus) became the focus, 35 words were readily 
sorted into five semantic categories pertaining to journeys. The results 
of this activity appear in Table 12.6. In examining the categories and 
words in Table 12.6, the usefulness and potential power of such a scheme 
for student learning are evident. 

TABLE 12.6 

Vocabulary From a Fourth-Grade Basal Reading Unit: 
Clustered According to Semantic Categories 

Subcategory of Journeys Vocabulary Words 

Feelings people might have on Amazed, anxious, confused, alert, excited, 
journeys frightened, brave, miserable, satisfied, 


Actions that might be part of Explored, escaped, disappeared, struggling, 

journeys rescued, arrived, greet, arrived, fidget 

Places that people might travel Valley, trail, deserts, harbor, creek, hotel 
over/see on journeys 

Descriptions of perilous places that Rugged, towering, steep, descent, slopes 
might be encountered on journeys 

People who might be encountered Conductor, passengers, survivors, crew, pilot 
on journeys 



This scheme illustrates that many principles could drive a vocabulary 
curriculum. The critical perspective, however, is that a vocabulary curricu- 
lum has an apparent set of underlying principles based on theory and em- 
pirical validation. The principles from scholarship that publishers have 
used to specify vocabulary in their programs need to be unveiled and exam- 
ined by users in states and districts. In the same vein, the standards of states 
that give publishers guidance in choosing vocabulary need to be revisited. 
Do state standards provide teachers and publishers sufficient guidance to 
implement a vocabulary curriculum that is effective and efficient? At the 
current time, the vocabulary standards of most states and published read- 
ing programs are vague and nebulous. If students are to read with expertise 
and interest in the middle grades and beyond, vocabulary curricula must be 
clear and defined according to a set of principles drawn from scholarship. 

Implications for Teachers 

Although the responsibility for identifying a core vocabulary should not be 
placed on the already heavily laden shoulders of classroom teachers, many 
classroom teachers will recognize the need and usefulness of an effective 
and efficient vocabulary curriculum. For those who cannot wait until state 
agencies and committees have identified principles and applied them to a 
vocabulary curriculum, three questions can guide the amount of time that 
teachers spend on particular vocabulary. The first question a teacher can 
ask in examining the critical vocabulary in a text is: Which unknown words 
might students know by association with known words? Graves (1984) hy- 
pothesized that there are many words for which students already have a 
concept. They simply do not have this particular label for the word. A sim- 
ple association can be made to the new vocabulary when the known label is 
elicited. For example, two of the three words that are highlighted for vocab- 
ulary instruction from the text excerpt that introduced this chapter — bur- 
rowed and whiteout — can be treated in this manner. Students are familiar 
with the word dig, which defines burrowed in this context, while whiteout is 
easily defined in relation to a snowstorm. The word refuge, by contrast, 
could merit a more extended discussion. In the context of this text, refuge is 
used as a protected spot. The word is used in different content areas with 
sufficiently distinct meanings that this word and the derivative, refugees, 
could support the development of a rich vocabulary among students. 

A second question is: Which words in the text have derivatives that are 
frequent in students’ reading and writing? In considering the text that in- 
troduced this chapter, consider this sentence: “Six hours after Mick and the 
team had left, Akiak padded softly, cautiously, into the checkpoint.” The 
word that is singled out for vocabulary' instruction in this sentence is check- 
point, a word that occurs infrequently and can be identified through associa- 



tion with the roots in this compound word. The word cautiously, on the other 
hand, is part of a family that has members that can be expected to appear 
frequently and in a range of subject areas: cautious, caution (-s, -ed, -ing), and 
cautionary. Furthermore, the reason for Akiak’s cautionary approach merits 
discussion as part of the story. 

Third, with which words might students need support because of the 
multiple meanings of the word? Again, drawing from the text Akiak, con- 
sider the following two sentences: “Screaming winds threw bitter cold at the 
team as they fought their way along the coast.” and ‘“That old dog will never 
make it!’ he laughed at Akiak across the biting wind.” Neither bitter nor bit- 
ing is targeted for vocabulary attention in the teacher’s edition. Both words, 
however, are within zone 4 families (words that appear with frequencies of 
10 to 29 times per one-million-word corpus). These two words are not 
members of the same semantic family, at least when the criterion is seman- 
tic transparency. However, they do have the same historical root and both 
have multiple meanings and are used across subject areas (their dispersion 
indices are .8). Both words deserve attention in this context because the au- 
thor’s use differs from their most common definitions. Furthermore, both 
words are used in numerous metaphors. Not only is bitter used to describe 
the attitude of characters in narratives but things are described as bitter-sad 
and someone waits until the bitter end. Similarly, several phrases use the word 
bite, as in bite the bullet and bite off more than can be chewed. Selecting vocabulary 
based on answers to these three questions can go a long way to developing a 
broad and also deep vocabulary. 


Among the most pressing questions that empirical investigations of the 
proposed curriculum need to address is the nature of instruction that best 
supports learning of these words. The National Reading Panel (2000) sum- 
marized the need for both direct instruction and exposure to many, varied 
texts. The latter has been viewed as the means for incidental learning of vo- 
cabulary (Anderson, Fielding, & Wilson, 1988). Anderson et al. (1988) re- 
ported that the amount of vocabulary that fourth- and fifth-graders 
acquired through after-school reading of text was reflected in comprehen- 
sion scores on school tests. The nature of fluency with complex and abstract 
words as a result of differing amounts of school reading has not been con- 
sidered. Although after-school learning cannot be manipulated in school 
investigations, the amount of in-school reading can be. If the goal of a mil- 
lion words of reading (the amount of out-of-school reading done by Ander- 
son et al.’s [1988] most prolific readers) is applied to school reading from 
Grades 1 through 4, students would have had exposure to the words on the 
target curriculum a minimum of 20 times each. This minimum number re- 



fleets the manner in which words in the curriculum were chosen: (a) only 
words with frequencies of 10 or more per million were addressed (through 
zone 4) and (b) only semantic families with two or more members were in- 
cluded. In that available research indicates that middle graders need to see 
words in texts from six to 12 times to use them knowledgeably, students will 
have had sufficient exposure to these words — many of which may require 
even more exposure because of their abstractness. How differing amounts 
of extended reading and of direct instruction affect students’ understand- 
ing of the complex vocabulary that has been identified here should be a fo- 
cus of future study. Yet, although many questions remain about this 
particular curriculum, there can be little question that systematic attention 
is needed to vocabulary curricula on state and national levels. If the trajecto- 
ries of the substantial portion of American students who are not now read- 
ing at designated levels are to change, vocabulary instruction will need to be 
effective and efficient. 


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Author Index 


Adams, M. J., 2, 20, 53, 65 , 96, 113 , 155, 

Afflerbach, 2 , 20 
Allington, R. L., 59, 65 
Allison, D. T„ 159, 173 
Anderson, R. C., 18, 20 , 27, 30, 31, 33, 
34, 42 , 48, 49, 50, 58, 59, 65, 
70, 76, 80,57, 180,203, 261, 

Anglin, J. M„ 72, 78 , 87 , 111 , 113 , 225, 
226,227 ,241 
Askov, E. N., 181,203 
August, D., 1 19, 135 
Austin, M. C., 158, 173 


Badders, W„ 245, 262 
Baines, L., 52, 65 
Baker, L„ 53, 65, 75, 87, 102, 113 
Baker, S„ 156, 173 
Ballard, R. D., 259, 262 
Banks, J. A., 216, 222 
Baumann, J. F„ 39, 42 , 72, 87 , 179, 181, 
182, 195, 201,203, 254, 262 
Beals, D„ 236 ,241 
Bear, D. R„ 184, 203 
Beck, I. L„ 7, 17, 20, 29, 30, 31, 39, 42 , 
46, 49, 53, 64, 65 , 70, 74, 75, 
87 , 99, 101, 102, 113 , 123, 124, 

125, 135 , 141, 142, 151 , 180, 
201,203, 245, 251, 254, 262 
Betts, E„ 76, 87 , 248, 262 
Biemiller, A., 18, 20, 29, 42 , 46, 65 , 77, 
87 , 99, 107, 113 , 116, 135 , 159, 
173 , 223, 224, 226, 227, 228, 
229, 230, 235, 236, 237, 239, 
241 , 252, 253, 257, 262 
Blachowicz, C. L. Z., 30, 42 , 142, 151 , 
180, 184, 202 , 203,204 
Blake, R.J., 243, 257, 259, 262 
Blum-Kulka, S„ 17, 21 
Bode, J., 144, 151 
Boehm, R. G., 191, 194,203 
Brabham, E. G., 160, 173 
Bravo, M., 16,27, 145, 151 
Brett, A., 117, 135 , 159, 174 
Bryant, D. M., 156, 174 
Buikema, J . L„ 181, 184,203 
Burningham, J., 123, 125, 135 


Cain, K„ 76, 87 

Calderon, M„ 120, 123, 131, 135 
Calfee, R. C„ 140, 151 
Campbell, J. R„ 137, 151 
Carlisle, J. F„ 72, 87 , 140, 144, 151 
Carlo, M., 117, 123, 135 , 144, 147, 150, 

Carney, J.J., 117, 135 
Carroll, J. B„ 4, 11, 21 , 246, 247, 249. 
250, 253, 262 




Carver, R. P., 18 ,21 
Chall, J. S„ 78, 81, 87 , 223, 242 , 245, 
253, 258, 262 
Champion, A. H., 72, 87 
Chomsky, C., 100, 113 
Christie, A., 217, 222 
Clark, E., 70, 71, 87 
Clay, M. M„ 248, 262 
Clements, D. H„ 10, 21 
Cobuild Staff, 105, 113 
Conger, R. D., 155, 174 
Cooper, J. D„ 258, 259, 262 
Copeland, K. A., 156, 174 
Cornell, E. H„ 159, 174 
Corson, D., 51, 65 
Craig, J. C„ 81, 87 
Crain-Thoreson, C., 57, 65 
Cummins, J., 78, 87 
Cunningham, A. E., 10, 21 , 48, 51, 57, 

58, 60,61,62 , 65 , 66 , 116, 135 , 
156 , 174 , 180, 203 , 225 ,242 
Curtis, C. P.,201,205 


Dale, E„ 2, 21 , 71, 88 , 184, 204 , 230, 

233 , 242 , 245, 251, 252, 253, 
257, 265 

Daneman, M., 47, 66 
Daniels, H„ 185, 198, 204 
Daniels, M„ 117, 135 
D’Anna, C. A., 97, 113 
Davidson, J., 10,2i, 117, 135 
Davis, F. B„ 1, 6, 21 
Diakidoy, I., 75, 76, 80, 81, 83, 84, 88 
Dickinson, D. K., 36, 37, 43 , 57, 66 , 99, 
113 , 117, 135 , 157, 158, 159, 
174 , 225,242 

Donahue, P. L„ 13, 14, 21 , 244, 263 

Donovan, C., 81, 88 

Donovan, J.J., 13,27 

Drevno, G. E., 1 17, 135 

Dromi, E„ 161, 174 

Duke, N. K„ 69, 81, 82, 88 , 185, 186, 

190, 195,204, 246, 257, 258, 

Duncan, G.J., 155, 174 
Dunn, L„ 156, 157, 158, 174 
Dunn, L. M„ 170, 174 
Durkin, D. D„ 184, 202, 204 
Durso, F., 71, 88 


Edwards, A., 214, 222 

Edwards, E. C„ 29, 43 , 72, 88 , 185, 204 

Ehri, L„ 36, 45 

Filey, W. B., 56, 66, 69, 73, 75, 77, 88 , 
160, 174 , 227, 242 
Ewers, C. A., 10, 21 , 159, 7 74 


Farr, R. C., 2, 27 
Flood, J., 2, 27 
Foil, C. R„ 8, 27 

Foorman, B. R„ 30, 45, 234, 242 , 257, 

Fowler, A., 36, 45 

Frank, M. S., 196, 197, 198, 204 

Freedman, R., 144, 151 

Freeman, E. B„ 81 , 88 

Fry, E. B„ 96, 775 

Fukkink, R. G„ 39, 45, 140, 152 , 181, 


Garcia, G. E„ 138, 139, 140, 152 

Gates, A. I., 13, 27 

Gathercole, S., 36, 45 

George, J. C., 195, 198, 204 

Gibbons, G., 258, 263 

Golinkoff, R. M„ 161, 7 74 

Gordon, J„ 75, 78, 88 

Gosami, U., 36, 45 

Grabe, W,, 1 16, 135 

Graves, M. F„ 9, 12, 27, 30, 40, 41, 45, 

79, 88 , 101, 775, 142, 152 , 155, 

174 , 181, 184, 189, 201, 202, 
204 , 260, 263 

Greenaway, T., 82, 88 


Hafner, L. E„ 181,204 
Hall, V. C., 63, 66 
Hamilton, V., 201,204 
Hansen, J., 201 ,204 
Hargrave, A. C., 57, 66 
Harmon, J., 82, 88 

Hart, B., 6, 16, 27, 64, 66, 69, 77, 88 , 98, 
99, 775, 139, 152 , 155, 156, 

175 , 240, 242 



Hayes, D. P„ 1, 5, 22, 50, 51, 66, 98, 113 , 
246, 257, 263 
Haynes, M. C., 100, 113 
Hazenberg, S., 223, 242 
Heath, S. B„ 53, 66 
Heise, B, L„ 10,22 
Helburn, S. W„ 156, 175 
Hesse, K., 199, 204 
Hiebert, E, H„ 5, 22, 78, 88 
Hirsh, E. D„ 69, 86, 88 
Hoban, R„ 17,22 
Hoffman, J., 257, 263 
Holt, S. B.', 18, 22 

Houghton Mifflin Science, 84, 85, 88 

Howes, C., 157, 175 

Hu, M., 76, 83, 88 

Huckin, T„ 83, 89 

Hughes, M„ 158, 175 

Hutcheson, G. D., 5, 22 


Jacob, J. S., 158, 175 
Jenkins, J. R., 77, 89 , 159, 175 , 181, 204 
Jimenez, R. T., 16, 22 
Johnson, D. D„ 30, 43 , 181, 184, 202, 
204 , 253, 257, 263 
Juel, C., 18, 22, 64, 66 
Justice, L., 160, 175 


Kamil, M„ 10, 22 
Keats, E. J., 45, 66 
Klinger, J. K„ 39, 43 
Kohnke, J. M„ 210, 212,222 
Konopak, B. C„ 75, 81, 84, 89 
Kontos, S„ 158, 175 

Kuhn, M. R„ 6, 22, 39, 43 , 140, 152 , 248, 


Landau, S. I., 70, 89 
Lasky, K„ 144, 152 
Laufer, B„ 73, 74, 89 
Leinhardt, G., 100, 113 
Leung, C. B„ 10, 22, 117 ,135 
Lewellen, M. J., 63, 66 
Lickteig, M.J., 158, 175 
Liu, J., 161, 175 
Lively, T„ 141, 145, 152 

Lobel, A., 141, 152 
London, J., 8, 22 
Lonigan, C.J., 156, 175 
Lukens, R., 81, 82, 89 


Marchalek, B., 52, 66 
Margosein, C. M., 117, 136 
Marks, C., 74, 89 
Marzano, R. J., 259, 263 
McKeown, M. G., 27, 28, 30, 40, 43 , 44, 
47, 66 , 76, 77 , 89 , 105, 107, 
113 , 116, 131, 136, 173, 175 
McKissack, P. C., 186, 187, 204 
McLord, V. C., 155,7 75 
McMahon, S. I., 185, 205 
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 251, 

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 
196, 200, 205 
Mervis, C. B., 161, 175 
Metsala, J., 36, 44 
Mezynski, K., 33, 44 
Morrow, L. M., 159, 175 
Myers, J., 147 , 152 
Myerson, M., 69, 89 


Nagy, W. E., 7, 11, 16, 22, 30, 32, 37, 44 , 
72, 76, 79, 80, 86, 89 , 97 , 114 , 
138, 139, 140, 142, 152 , 161, 
175 , 181 , 205 , 225, 227 , 242 , 
244, 246, 250, 251 ,263 
Nash, R„ 16, 22 
Nation, I. S. P„ 70, 74, 76, 89 
Nation, P, 78, 89 

National Center for Education Statistics, 
78, 89 , 115 , 136 

National Reading Panel, 98, 103, 114 , 
117, 131, 136 , 142, 152 , 182, 
205 , 223 , 242 , 258, 261 ,263 
N1CHD, 2, 6, 7, 12, 19, 20, 22, 69, 81, 

82, 83, 89 
Ninio, A., 53, 67 


O’Brien, R. C., 82, 89 
Otterman, L. M., 181, 205 




Palincsar, A. S., 39, 44 

Paribakht, T. S., 71,59 

Pearson, P. D., 185, 186, 190, 195, 205 

Penno.J. F., 69, 77, 90 

Perez, E., 119, 136 

Pfister, M„ 167, 175 

Pianta, R. C., 157, 175, 176 


Ramirez, S. Z., 119, 136 
RAND Reading Study Group, 6, 19, 22, 
27, 44, 70, 78, 80, 83, 90 
Rausch, J. R„ 170, 176 
Reese, E., 160, 176 
Rinsland, H. D„ 240, 242 
Robbins, C., 10, 22, 55, 67, 73, 74, 75, 

77, 90 

Rosemary, C. A., 158, 176 
Ruddell, R. B„ 80, 90 
Rylant, C., 123, 136 


Saunders, W. M„ 99, 107, 114, 120, 136 
Say, A., 259, 263 

Scarborough, H. S., 156, 176, 225, 242 
Schatz, E., 75, 90 
Scholastic, 2, 22 
Schooen, R., 143, 152 
Schwanenflugel, P., 69, 71, 73, 75, 77, 81, 
90, 117, 136, 156, 176 
Scott, J. A., 6, 22, 10, 30, 40, 44, 78, 85, 
86, 90, 98, 114, 117, 136, 181, 

Senechal, M„ 46, 54, 55, 57, 67, 1 17, 

136, 159, 176, 227, 242 
Share, D. L„ 159, 176 
Slavin, R. E„ 120, 122, 136 
Smith, F„ 50, 67 
Smith, J., 155, 176 
Smith, M. W„ 158, 176 
Snow, C. E., 17, 23, 53, 64, 67, 156, 176 
Soundy, C. S„ 158, 176 
Spinelli, J., 201 ,205 
Spiro, R. J., 109, 114 
Stahl, S. A., 27, 28, 31, 39, 44, 47, 50, 67, 
71, 74, 84, 86, 90, 98, 99, 100, 
101, 102, 103, 107, 114, 117, 

131, 136, 142, 152, 159 ,176, 
181, 201 ,205 

Stanovich, K. E., 35, 44, 52, 57, 58, 59, 
60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 67, 69, 78, 
90, 98, 114 
Stein, N. L., 141, 153 
Sternberg, R. J., 32, 39, 44, 46, 47, 49, 
64,67, 68, 184 ,205 
Sticht, T. G„ 4, 23 
Stillings, N„ 13,25 
Storch, S. A., 156, 176 
Sugimura, T., 161,776 
Swanborn, M. S. L., 6, 23, 29, 44, 69, 76, 
78, 79, 83, 90, 181 ,205 


Taylor, B, M„ 158, 176 
Templeton, S„ 202, 205 
Texas Education Agency, 2, 23 
Thayer, J., 220, 222 
Thompson, E., 181, 205 
Thorndike, E. L„ 1 1, 25, 247, 263 
Tierney, R., 83, 85, 90 
Tomesen, M., 1 17, 136 


U. S. Census Bureau, 14, 25, 155, 176 
Umbel, V. M„ 116, 1 36 


Vaughn-Shavuo, E, 1 18, 136 
Verhallen, M., 139, 153 
Verhoeven, L, T., 138, 153 
Voigt, C„ 201 ,205 
Vollands, S. R„ 18, 25 


Walberg, H.J., 17, 25, 64, 68 
Walsh, K., 84, 90 
Washington, J., 155, 176 
Wasik. B. A., 57, 68, 159, 160, 176 
Weaver, C. A., 82, 90 
Weizman, Z. O., 157, 177 
Wells, C. G., 157, 177 
Wells, R„ 17, 25 
Whipple, G.. 1, 6, 25 
White, E. B., 209, 222 



White, T. G., 78, 90, 97, 1 1 1, 1 12 ,114, 
117, 136, 181, 184,205, 226, 

Whitehurst, G. J., 53, 54, 55, 57, 68, 159, 
164, 177 

Wilcox-Herzog, A., 158, 177 
Wilder, L. I., 259, 263 
Wiles, D„ 100, 114 
Williams, K, T, 170, 177 
Wittrock, M., 74, 91 
Wixson, K. K., 1 1 7, 136 

Wysocki, K„ 181,205 

Yep, L., 201,205 


Zeno, S. M„ 2, 4, 5, 1 1, 23, 74, 91, 243, 
244, 245, 246, 247, 249, 

This page intentionally left blank 

Subject Index 


Access hypothesis, 33, 40 
Acquisition, 9, 47, 62, 70, 84, 225, 230, 

Appropriate texts, 140 
Aptitude hypothesis, 31-32, 39 
At-risk learners, 16-17 


Beginning readers, 3-4, 6, 62, 98-99, 
219-220, 227, 240-241 
PAVEd far success program, 156-157, 

receptive vocabulary, 156 
teacher talk, 157 
word selection, 236-239 
Bilingual learners. See English language 


Cognates, 14-16 

Also see Words, origins of 
Comprehension, 3, 30-32, 34, 61, 70 
instruction of, 6, 27 
oral, 4 

Also see Oral language 
self-monitoring of, 102 
Computer-assisted activities, 1 0 
Context, 7, 9, 12, 28-29, 47-49, 70, 72, 
83,140, 146 

clues, 184-185, 189-192, 199-201 
contextual analysis, 196-198 
definitional information of, 103 
global, 77-79 
local, 71, 84 


Decoding, 3-4 
Dictionary definitions, 105 
Direct instruction, 49, 58, 98, 139, 151, 

explicit targeted vocabulary, 161-162 
guided practice, 194-195 


Early readers. See Beginning readers 
Emergent literacy profile, 37 
English language learners 
cognates, 141 
enrollment, 115 




fifth-grade immigration intervention, 
144, 147, 150 
idiomatic language, 141 
reading comprehension, 116-117, 


transitional bilingual program 
(model), 119-120, 130 
vocabulary improvement project, 

vocabulary instruction, 118 
Explicit instruction, See Direct instruction 


First grade, See Beginning readers 


Generative word knowledge, 29 


High school, See Upper grades 


Incidental learning, 8, 13, 46, 49-50, 69, 
79, 86 

Independent readers, 56-57 
Independent reading (practice), 58-59, 
62, 64, 195-196, 198, 201 
Instrumentalist hypothesis, 38-39 


Keyword method, 8 
Knowledge hypothesis, 31, 39 


Lexicon of individuals, 1 1, 48, 53, 60 

Mathew effect, 35, 63 
Metalinguistic awareness, 35-36 
Middle grades, 6, 11, 99, 120, 148, 180, 
183, 248, 254 

Morphological awareness (morphol- 
ogy/morphemes), 38, 72, 85, 


Also see Words, origins of 

affixes, 111, 179-180, 185-187 
antonyms, 104 
root words, 97, 226 
semantic families, 250-251 
word-part clues, 184, 189-193, 


Oral language, 4, 29, 50-51, 126 
See also Vocabulary, oral 


Phonological awareness, 36-37 
Primary grades, See Beginning readers 


Read-aloud events, 10, 53-55, 77, 100 
Reciprocal hypothesis, 40 


Schema, 95 

Semantic mapping, 8, 104 

building bridges, 165-166 
CAR talk, 158-159, 164 
didactic-interactional book reading, 

discussion strategy, 107 
mnemonics, 8 

novel-name nameless category (N3C) 
presentation strategy, 

possible sentences, 106 
repetition, 13, 76 
retelling, 100 
scenarios, 106-107 
suggestopedia, 119 
text talk, 107 
Synonyms, 101 


Technology. See Computer-assisted activi- 


multiple choice, 229-230